Oregon Field Ornithologists

Rare birds in Oregon

As the accepted authority on the subject of bird species in Oregon, the Oregon Bird Records Committee has established a total of 635 bird species (627 of which are native) local to the state as of mid-2017. This number ranks Oregon third among U.S. states in aviary diversity, behind only (you guessed it) California and Texas.

As such, Fish and Wildlife Services officials in Oregon expend more efforts on bird species conservation in Oregon and the news, a few species notwithstanding, is incredibly bad. Virtually every one of the 600-species exists with negative population growth in state, whether to logging, pollution or general human invasion of habitat.

The following is a list of a dozen or so of the now-rarer birds in Oregon, including six species listed as endangered species. So as not to crush all hope, OregonBirds also includes a pair of pretty massive success stories as well…

The Black OystercatcherThe Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani) – Dubbed “the charismatic, signature bird of the rocky intertidal” by the National Audobon Society, this black and emerald green seabird is more commonly seen in California, it can be seen in tidal areas from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to southern California. The black oystercatcher is so interlinked with intertidal environments that the bird has been labeled as an “indicator species”, i.e. a harbinger of significant environmental degradation, by eco-facing NGO’s and groups.

The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) and the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) represent two of the seven species of grouse native to North America. Both had previously been considered as “species of concern by the USWFS, but the latter was removed from the enumeration in 2015. These birds’ brother species, the Ruffed Grouse remains quite prolific throughout the Pacific Northwest from southern Alaska to northern California.

The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) – An evolutionary cousin of the auk, the marbled murrelet is surviving in great enough numbers in British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon to remain viable, but logging in southern B.C., Washington and Oregon have cleaned out quite a bit of the old-growth forests in which this seabird makes its nest. The damage in these areas is great enough that despite the bird’s northerly numbers, it still makes the endangered species list.

The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) – The northern spotted owl was an early poster child of the species preservation movement, earning this beastie the derision of Rush Limbaugh and other loud wingnut conservatives. Nevertheless, the perilous position of this owl led to the Fish and Wildlife Service establishing its first “lat-successional reserves” as part of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

The Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) – Once nearly exterminated for their feathers, the short-tailed albatross (a funky evolutionary product somehow directly descended from the albatrosses of the Southern Hemisphere) has nearly made its way back out of the “endangered” category.

The Streaked Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) – The newest addition to the list of endangered birds in Oregon, the Streaked horned lark was proclaimed such in 2013. Today, this lark is rarely seen in Oregon if so, it’ll be in the Willamette Valley or possibly on the state’s northern coastal area.

The Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) – Of all the birds listed here, the Western snowy plover could well be in the deepest trouble. By 2006, the FWS had counted 29 breeding grounds for the bird; just a decade later, this number was down to 10.

Yellow-billed CuckooThe Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) – The FWS in 2013 moved the yellow-billed cuckoo “up” from the “of concern” list to the official endangered species list for western North America – Incredible to think of a bird whose habitat stretches from southern British Columbia to northern Argentina.

After these hard-luck cases among the birds of Oregon, it may be slightly hard to believe in success stories from the world of species conservation, but Oregon and the Pacific Northwest may take pride in the local efforts to bring back the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and no less than the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) from the edge of extinction. Happily, children in Oregon need not be deprived of the sight of these beloved species at the seaside and in the mountains.

Chalk two up for the birds, then!


Oregon Field Ornithologists. P.O. Box 10373, Eugene, OR 97440