According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, more than 45 million people take part in birdwatching each year—and, along with other wildlife watchers, they contribute more than $75 billion to the U.S. economy. Those birders spend more than $40 billion annually on trips and equipment, and they spend nearly $15 billion in the local communities they visit.
Clearly, birding is big business in the United States.
There may be no better place to birdwatch in the U.S. than in Klamath County, Oregon. More than 350 species of birds stop in the Klamath Basin while migrating along the Pacific Flyway every year, and—unsurprisingly—the region hosts the nation’s oldest birding festival. So what makes the Klamath Basin, sandwiched between the Cascades and the high desert in southern Oregon, such an attractive destination for birders? And how can you enjoy the region’s world-class birding scene? Here’s a quick guide to getting started.
Why Klamath County?
First and foremost, Klamath County sits along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory bird route that stretches from Alaska to Argentina. As such, roughly a million migrating birds make a stop in the Klamath Basin every winter. The Klamath Basin is also home to a wide variety of ecosystems that accommodate and cater to different migrating species. Within the region, you’ll find desert lakes, open meadows, wetlands and marshes, rivers, forests, and other bird-friendly ecosystems.
Finally, the Klamath Basin offers numerous protected areas to guard against poaching and human intrusion. In all, the region hosts six national wildlife refuges that comprise nearly 200,000 acres of forests, lakes, grasslands, and other protected habitats. The Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, for instance, is popular with bald eagles. In recent years, upwards of 300 have been known to roost at the refuge in a single night.
When Should You Go Birding in Klamath County?
There’s no bad season for birding in Klamath County, but we’re partial to winter. Here’s why: For starters, that’s when the bulk of the million migrating birds will descend on the region. Whether you’re looking for bald eagles, hawks, falcons, or western meadowlarks (the official state bird of Oregon), you’ll never enjoy better odds for seeing some of these spectacular birds than in winter. In addition to the variety, you won’t fight a crippling climate while you’re out on the lookout. The Klamath Basin enjoys roughly 300 days of sunshine every year, and it sees just 14 inches of rain—roughly one-third of what Portland gets.
Every President’s Day weekend, Klamath Falls hosts the four-day Winter Wings Festival. The oldest birding festival in the country offers more than 40 activities for birders and photographers, including field trips, photography discussions, presentations, workshops, and more. But if winter’s chill keeps you away, you’ll find something to love all year long. Hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese migrate through the region every fall, shorebirds and waterfowl travel through the region every spring, and birders can watch 200,000 ducks, geese, and herons between May and August.
Where Should You Go Birding?
There is no shortage of excellent birding opportunities throughout the Klamath Basin. Here are a few of our favorite destinations.
Upper Klamath Lake
Upper Klamath Lake is Oregon’s largest freshwater lake and just might be the state’s best place to watch migrating waterfowl. The lake stretches out for 25 miles, and you might see heron, osprey, and bald eagles in and around its diverse ecosystems. And if you’d like to get on the water, you can take in marshland, forests, and open lake scenery along the 9.5-mile Upper Klamath Canoe Trail.
Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge
There are few more thrilling sights than watching a bald eagle soar through the sky—and there are fewer better places to see such a sight than just outside the 4,200-acre Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge sits on a northeastern slope, and its ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests shield eagles and other raptors from harsh winter winds. Other than seasonal deer hunting, the refuge is closed to public entry—but birders are invited to post up just outside refuge borders to witness and photograph early-morning fly-outs.
Lake of the Woods
Summertime birders can while away sunny days at Lake of the Woods, roughly 35 miles northwest of Klamath Falls. Sitting near the crest of the Cascades, Lake of the Woods hosts two Forest Service campgrounds and a private resort to accommodate weekend warriors hoping to catch a glimpse of steller's and gray jays, sandhill cranes, and various owls. The lake itself also attracts a variety of waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and gulls.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated Media in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.