Klamath Basin Birding Guide

Crane at Upper Klamath Lake NWR

This Klamath Basin birding guide shows you some of the best spots to see a diverse number of species of birds. The Klamath Basin is a major stop for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway and provides many opportunities for the avid or novice birdwatcher.

Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south route for migratory birds extending from Alaska to Argentina. The birds travel the same route every year in spring and in the fall to find food sources or to breed. The Klamath Basin is a key rest stop where birds of many species gather to feed and regain their strength.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges

Ducks at Upper Klamath Lake NWR

The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a wildlife preserve operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service located in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northern California near Klamath Falls, Oregon. The Oregon refuges include Bear Valley, Klamath Marsh, Upper Klamath and Lower Klamath. The California refuges include Tulelake and Clear Lake.

  • Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge (4200 acres) was established in 1978 and protects a vital night roost site for wintering bald eagles.
  • Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (over 40,000 acres) was established in 1958 as a freshwater marsh with adjacent meadows.
  • Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (15,000 acres) was established in 1928 and is composed of mostly freshwater marsh and open water.
  • Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (almost 47,000 acres) was established in 1908 was the first waterfowl refuge in the United States. It includes shallow freshwater marshes, open water, grassy uplands, and croplands. This area provides a feeding, resting, nesting, and brood rearing habitat for waterfowl and other water birds.
  • Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge (almost 39,000 acres) was established in 1928 and is mostly open water and croplands.
  • Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge (about 20,000 acres) was established in 1911 and is mostly open water.

Best Viewing Spots

The best viewing spot for Klamath Basin birding is just about anywhere there is water. But one of the best spots to see a diverse number of species is 5 miles south of Klamath Falls at the Miller Island Wildlife Area just off Highway 97. This spot is the temporary home for numerous species of birds, including mallard, shovelers, pintails, and gadwall ducks. Another favorite location is the Tulelake NWR where millions of migratory snow geese nest. A third location is Putnam’s Point off Lakeshore Drive at the Upper Klamath Lake. Grebes and white pelicans are the most popular birds. Another favorite location is at Rocky Point on the west side of Upper Klamath Lake.

Seasonal Highlights

Each season provides multiple opportunities for the Klamath Basin birding enthusiast.

August and September are peak months for viewing Pelicans, Egrets, Herons, and Grebes. An estimated one to two million ducks and geese migrate through the Basin each October and November.

From November through February over 500 Bald Eagles, the largest concentration in lower 48 states, winter near Bear Valley Roost in the Klamath Basin.

March to May brings shorebirds and waterfowl migrating north to Alaska and Canada. Thousands return to nest in Klamath Marshes.

In May to August brood-rearing by 200,000 ducks, geese, herons, egrets and grebes can be seen at many locations.

Birding Trails

Klamath Basin Trail Sign in Klamath Falls, Oregon

The Klamath Basin birding trails offer the best bird watching in the West. Here’s the reason why you’re going to see so many birds: 80 percent of the Pacific Flyway bird population stop over in the Klamath Basin wetland and lakes area year round. With that many birds, it’s no wonder that the average experienced birder can observe nearly 75 species in a day while visiting the 47 trails in the Klamath Basin. You’ll also see rare scenic and geological features like Crater Lake and lava beds while traveling along the trails, spanning in every direction from Klamath Falls, Oregon and reaching as far south as Tennant, California. More Info ...

Winter Wings Festival

This Klamath Basin birding guide would not be complete with mentioning the highlight for birdwatchers – the annual Winter Wings Festival located on the campus of Oregon Institute Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The festival features guest lecturers, photography workshops, tours of local viewing areas, and the highlight event is the early morning bald eagle flyout which is a sell-out every year.

More Info ...

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