Jan 11, 2024

Best birding days are here for Seattle

Snow geese take off from the Skagit Wildlife Area near La Conner. Photo: Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Seattleites may see some of the best bird-watching opportunities of the year over the next few days and weeks as migratory birds from farther north flee the polar vortex, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW).

Why it matters: The Puget Sound region is among the best in North America for viewing a wide variety of migratory and resident species within a short drive of the city, WDFW spokesperson Chase Gunnell told Axios.

Driving the news: This season, migration numbers were low in November and December due to generally mild weather, said Gunnell, but that's picked up fast as temperatures drop amid the coming Arctic blast.

State of play: Each fall through spring, millions of geese, ducks, shorebirds, and raptors fly down from Alaska, Canada and even the Russian Arctic to winter in Puget Sound-area lowlands, estuaries, and coastal bays.

  • In addition to Puget Sound, the lower Skagit Valley, Hood Canal, Dungeness Bay and many other parts of Western Washington provide important migratory bird habitat within the Pacific Flyway, said Gunnell.

What we're watching: A few local highlights, per WDFW, include black brant geese, harlequin ducks, dunlins, sandpipers and oystercatchers that are often found along Puget Sound shorelines from Tacoma to Bellingham.

Black brant geese in Puget Sound waters.
Western high Arctic brant geese can be seen in waterways throughout Puget Sound. Photo: Courtesy of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • At the Ballard Locks, Shilshole Bay Marina and Golden Gardens Park, goldeneye ducks can be spotted hunting for mussels and clams.
  • Large groups of bald eagles are often seen along the Nooksack and Skagit rivers near Bellingham and Sedro-Woolley.

Plus: Fir Island Farm Reserve Wildlife Area and Leque Island Wildlife Area Unit are renowned for chances to see tens of thousands of snow geese, as well as larger trumpeter swans.

Be smart: WDFW has partnered with local organizations and landowners in Skagit County on the Be Bird Wise initiative to educate visitors on how to responsibly view and photograph birds.

  • Duck and goose hunting seasons continue through early February, so birders should be prepared to encounter and share space respectfully.

Of note: Birders are also being asked to monitor for signs of highly pathogenic bird flu after outbreaks last winter killed hundreds of birds.

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