Friday, March 20, 2009

Backyard birds of... Portland, Oregon

Song SparrowSong Sparrow, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 7 March 2009 by Greg Gillson.


[Updated: 7 July 2011: For over 2 years this 4th post to this blog has been by far the most popular. Since it was written I have posted photos and life history information on each bird listed. Thus, it only makes sense to update this post. Now you can click on each bird name listed to read these more in-depth articles. I hope this update will make this post even more useful. Enjoy! - Greg]

This article begins what I hope will be a regular feature. My intent is to list the most common backyard birds of towns throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The following common yardbirds are found in Portland, Oregon. To a large degree this list applies to all towns in the Willamette Valley eco-region. However, this list is specifically for towns from Portland in the north to Wilsonville in the south, and from Forest Grove in the west to Gresham in the east.

The seasons listed are those when most common, though some individuals may occur at other seasons. Special habitats are listed for those species that might not be found in every yard. In general, flyover birds including waterfowl and raptors are not included.

California Quail, year round, local in brushy country settings
Mourning Dove, year round
Rock Pigeon, year round
Eurasian Collared-Dove, year round, local in rural and residential areas
Band-tailed Pigeon, spring, summer, fall, woodlands
Rufous Hummingbird, spring, summer
Anna's Hummingbird, year round
Vaux's Swift, spring, summer, fall, chimneys and open sky
Downy Woodpecker, year round
Northern Flicker, year round
Western Wood Pewee, summer, fall
Cliff Swallow, spring, summer, large barns and concrete overpasses
Violet-green Swallow, spring, summer, fall
Barn Swallow, spring, summer, fall
American Crow, year round
Western Scrub-Jay, year round
Steller's Jay, year round, conifers
Black-capped Chickadee, year round
Chestnut-backed Chickadee, year round, conifers
Bushtit, year round
White-breasted Nuthatch, year round, oaks
Red-breasted Nuthatch, year round, conifers
Bewick's Wren, year round
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, fall, winter, spring
American Robin, year round
Varied Thrush, winter, especially during snow storms
Cedar Waxwing, spring, summer, fall
European Starling, year round
Orange-crowned Warbler, spring
Yellow-rumped Warbler, fall, winter, spring
Townsend's Warbler, winter, spring, conifers
Wilson's Warbler, spring
Western Tanager, spring, summer
Black-headed Grosbeak, spring, summer
Spotted Towhee, year round
Song Sparrow, year round
Fox Sparrow, fall, winter, spring
Golden-crowned Sparrow, fall, winter, spring
White-crowned Sparrow, spring, summer, fall, winter (rare)
Dark-eyed Junco, fall, winter, spring, summer (rare)
Red-winged Blackbird, year round
Brewer's Blackbird, year round
Brown-headed Cowbird, spring, summer, fall
House Finch, year round
Purple Finch, year round, forested areas
American Goldfinch, spring, summer, fall, winter (rare)
Lesser Goldfinch, year round
Pine Siskin, winter, spring, irregular from year to year, conifers
Evening Grosbeak, spring, irregular from year to year, maples
House Sparrow, year round


  1. When we lived in the Glen Cullen area, we regularly had Short Eared Owls in our yard in late summer. They were hunting and feeding their fledglings. We now live in Raleigh Hills in the area south of Jesuit High School and had to disengage a Short Eared Owl from the netting over our apple tree. It was the second one I had held. Also in our Raleigh Hills yard, we hear Western Screech owls in the summer. We periodically see a Cooper's Hawk in our backyard, but last year we enjoyed watching two juveniles in ours and our neighbor's yard. Until the last few years, we had Red-tailed Hawks nesting in our neighborhood fir trees.

  2. A very commom bird in our backyard is the scrub jay.

  3. I live in Hillsdale and have had juvenile bald eagles (I think) in the yard twice. Also flyovers by herons, visiting the neighbor's ponds. No flamingos yet.

  4. I have no experience with bird watching, other than observing who comes to my yard's feeders. I am trying to identify a type of bird that keeps coming to my suet feeder, maybe you can help? I'm in North Portland, near the Columbia. These little brown birds keep showing up on our feeder. They are quite beautiful on their backs, mostly brown with black patterns but then they open their wings and you see a flash of yellow. Under there wings is neon yellow and when they fly up to the feeder or away you see the streak of yellow leaving. Any ideas? I've tried a google search and still not certain from what I've found.

    1. Samara, your birds sound like Pine Siskins.

    2. We live in The Lewelling (sp?) neighborhood of Milwaukie having moved here in September of last year. We are concerned about the lack of small birds in our yard and in the neighborhood in general. All we see and hear are Crows, Jays, Flickers, Hummingbirds, and an occasional hawk overhead. Why the utter lack of small birds?

    3. We live in The Lewelling (sp?) neighborhood of Milwaukie having moved here in September of last year. We are concerned about the lack of small birds in our yard and in the neighborhood in general. All we see and hear are Crows, Jays, Flickers, Hummingbirds, and an occasional hawk overhead. Why the utter lack of small birds?

  5. I have recently had some serious orthopedic surgeries and won't be packing in the wilderness areas for quite a while. I have found a new wilderness in my backyard. The birds. Thanks for this website.

  6. Hi. I am new to bird watching and find it fascinating. I have seen a bird in my backyard and cannot seem to identify it. It is larger than the american robin it looks for food with. It has a longer beak than the robin and is mostly dark grey. It also has a black rectangle shape on it's chest. Any ideas?
    Barbra in Beaverton OR

  7. Hi it's the first day of fall 2013 and today I have had a bird that is new to my area and I can't find my book!!
    It's mostly white with Some chestnut brown tail feathers a couple of brown wing bars and about the same size as the female red wing blackbirds in my yard. The bill isn't pointy it kind of thick. Very bright white I live in aurora in the willamette valley. Maybe just a fly over since it's so stormy. Anyone know?

  8. Have seen a new bird in my yard in Gresham for the last couple of weeks of warm, sunny weather. Never seen it before and can't find in book. Very small, I mean very small like a small humming bird, kind of sleek, gray brown body with inverted black triangle at throat and the v of the triangle has a very thin line of bright red. I think it has a yellow bill that is kind of long when it turns it's head to the side. I thought at first it was some kind of hummingbird because it moves all around the tree very fast but maybe it's not. It just flits all over very quickly. I don't know - could it be some kind of pet bird that got loose or has anyone else seen a bird like this.

  9. Hello, I stumbled upon this and love the list! I've gone through it once and now I'm trying to identify a few birds from this morning. Is there a way you can expand the list with pictures for easier browsing and identification?

  10. I am so happy I found your site. I was looking for types of birds in our area to know the best way to build bird houses for them. My son absolutely loves birds and wildlife of all kinds. He has started into photography and taking pictures of them. He has a website I made for him he posts pictures of what birds and animals he can find around us. During the snow storm we just had, he was outside taking care of the birds. He was so happy to put a name to one of the birds he was able to get a picture of. The song sparrow. He has several pictures of the Annas Hummingbirds. He actually had an amazing thing happen with one of the hummingbirds during the storm. He said it was his BEST DAY EVER he has a post about it on the blog on his website. We are very appreciative for the work you have done in creating this list of birds in our area. This will be a reference for us as we learn more about the birds around us. Would you mind if I put a link from his site you yours on posts were we refer to your posts about birds? Thanks again :)

    1. Thanks, Dannah. Links are great. I loved the post about petting the hummingbird.

  11. In Lake Oswego. This morning a seemingly 'young' smallish bird on our patio. Did not appear injured. So we gently put in a box, away from our Golden Retreiver.

    The bird has a short beak, but a shock of yellow on it's head, and little on it's back. Also blue feathering.

    Not quite sure what it is. We have all kinds near or heavily wooded area. Pileated Woodpeckers, Big Owls. But this bird is quite facsinating.

  12. I am so glad to have found your site. I am becoming quite interested in identifying various birds that come to our feeder, I can see myself an avid bird watcher when I retire. Though just learning now. A couple of things, when I was quite a bit younger, maybe 37 years ago now but still quite vivid in my memory. I was fishing with my grandmother up the santiam river, near north fork but up a few miles. This one time she cast her line there were these birds flying along the top of the water. One actually got caught in her line, she reeled it in and between the two of us unwound the line from under its wings. A very cute, soft gray bird, smallish, maybe only 4 to 5 inches in length. If I remember it was all gray but may have had varying colors, like light Brown or something similar. No bright colors at all. I've been searching the bird book and I'm just not certain. Could you help?

    1. Welcome to the very satisfying world of bird watching, Emily! Perhaps your fishing-caught bird was Vaux's Swift. They are solid gray, small, and would swoop over the water after insects.

  13. I am trying to identify a strange bird that landed on my balcony railing the other day. It was bigger than a pigeon, was blue gray in color, had a tuft of feathers on top and had an orange bill--and the bill was kind of flat. I have never seen a bird like this. I have searched pictures online but to no avail. Any ideas?

  14. I live in the Scholls area. What bird creates an obnoxious sound like Ack,Ack Ack Ack Ackack ack ack! Followed by what sounds like a pig that has been stuck and is dying?

  15. On May 31 when I was in Portland on 52nd St at a b&b, early in the morning, I kept hearing a long bird song. I'm from Montana and I hadn't heard it before, that I remember. It was a lovely long song. What bird(s) could it have been?

  16. On 10/24, mid morning I was watching my feeder when an unusual fellow showed up to feed. He was rather large, about the size of a yellow headed black bird except his head and upper torso was a cream color w/ darker body. Never seen one before? I live in Sisters. Have not seen anything like in my guide book. Any ideas?

    1. Possibly juvenile male Brown-headed Cowbird. They are creamy brown, but molt in black adult feathers sometimes in patches.

  17. Yesterday I was filling my feeders and noticed two unfamiliar birds in my neighbor's pines. I looked up what I had seen, and the closest species they resembled were Western Meadowlarks. The aspect that confuses me with these though is that the breast has a blackish 'V' but is cinnamon brown instead of yellow. I thought maybe it was a species of Oriole, but they don't have that prominent V on their chest like the Meadowlark. Interesting. When I saw them again this morning in the sunlight, they definitely look like Meadowlarks except with very dark plumage?

  18. I've enjoyed bird watching as long as I can remember. I have a very small backyard that is surrounded by a store wall on one side, a cinder block fence in the back, and the neighbors gigantic shop on the other side. I'm surprised that any birds can find me at all. But find me they do. I have three 40 foot holly trees along that cinder lock wall and one of the biggest Douglas firs in town. Thanks to these titanic wonders,certain species of birds are attracted to my yard. I've tried many different kinds of seeds, nuts, suet, meal worms , you name it. Some will eat anything and others are very selective. I'm finding out "If you feed them, they will come". My favorite are the lovely cedar wax wings that show up every memorial day weekend to gorge themselves on the holly berries. they're absolutely beautiful. I won a photo contest in a birding magazine a couple of years back with the help of a spectacular blue sky as the backdrop to a dozen wax wings all puffed up after a late afternoon snack of berries. Thank you so much for a place to come and read what other birders are seeing in their backyards and sharing what shows up in mine. HAPPY NEW YEAR! and BIRD ON.

  19. Hi, we live in Creswell and have been expanding our little bird sanctuary. The other day I saw a new addition to our normal clan of Chickadees, Junco's, Songbirds, Robins and Jay's.For the life of me I haven't been able to identify the little guy. He was shorter then the black eyed Junco but not as streamlined as the chickadees, having 3 yellow stripes on his head basically even proportions from the center of his head to his eyes. Any ideas?

    1. If it is smaller than a chickadee, then Golden-crowned Kinglet is probably your only choice.

  20. In Creswell! Our clan had a new member this morning which I have yet to identify any help would be great. He was smaller then a black eyed junco but not as streamlined as a chickadee. He was sporting three bright yellow stripes on his head, one being dead center. The rest of him was fairly close to a coloration of a songbird. Any ideas?

  21. Hello,I am trying to identify the birds new to my neighborhood that I haven't seen yet, only heard. Their sounds are approx. 6 notes and resemble a cavalry bugle call.

  22. Greetings! Live on west side of west hills near deep woods near creek. Past two summers hearing a loud bird whose call ends in two trills that sound like sonar (somewhat). Chirp chirp chirp sonar sonar.

  23. Last year in Milwaukie (north clackamas park)we had a Turkey vulture hanging around for a few days. Never before and not since