Spring Wildlife Viewing

Canvas back duck pair

There is always something to see at Malheur, but the greatest variety of waterfowl and songbirds can be found on the refuge from late winter through the end of May.

In early March, following the long, cold winter, a few spring migrants have arrived in the area. These include greater sandhill cranes, tundra swans, northern pintails and white-fronted, snow, Ross' and Canada geese. Sage grouse begin displaying on their leks on adjacent federal and private land in late March. Lesser sandhill cranes begin arriving in early March along with other species of ducks. Waterfowl numbers increase in the area through March and, depending on the weather, usually reach their peak late in the month.

During this period most of the birds can be found feeding on Silvies Flood Plain grazed and irrigated meadows around the town of Burns. Usually the best birding areas include the private meadows along Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes and Potter Swamp Road near Burns. The Double-O Unit of Malheur Refuge is another good birding spot. Depending on water conditions, good viewing may also be found along Highway 20 between Burns and Buchanan. These areas continue to provide good birding through April, but locating birds on a given day may take some scouting in order to find the concentration areas. Migration in the Blitzen Valley on the Refuge is much less spectacular as the area is outside the major migration corridor. However, the Blitzen Valley is the best place to see resident trumpeter swans and to view greater sandhill cranes.

As time progresses, more and more species arrive in the basin. American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, western grebes, long-billed curlews, and American avocets are some of the birds that arrive in late March and early April. More marsh birds, shorebirds, and passerines species show up as spring progresses into April, while numbers of migrant waterfowl decrease.

In early April, the Harney County Chamber of Commerce and local agencies sponsor the John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival. The festival begins on Thursday evening and ends on Sunday. Activities include presentations, guided tours, youth activities and an art show and sale. Although the festival occurs after the late March peak for waterfowl migration, birds are usually still present in large numbers, and many additional species can be seen. 

Major songbird migration begins in late April and reaches its peak in mid-May. Refuge Headquarters, Benson Pond and the P Ranch are the best places to look for passerines. Many warblers, vireos, tanagers and buntings concentrate in these areas. Most of the refuge's rare bird sightings have been at these locations. By early June songbird migration wanes, but locally nesting species are still in abundance.

Refuge staff have compiled an average arrival date list for the most common bird species using the refuge in the spring.