A lake, prairie, and savanna west of Eugene where more than 250 bird species have been recorded.
By Noah Strycker | Published: 6/16/2014
On a beautiful day in May a few years ago, I walked the marshes of the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area from dawn to dusk and saw 124 bird species — a non-motorized Big Day record in Oregon, as far as I know. At Fern Ridge, it’s just not necessary to hop in and out of your car to rack up sightings. You can meander along several miles of dikes and impoundments, as I love to do, or sit at an elevated viewing platform and let the birds come to you.
The site’s all-time bird list is staggering by Pacific Northwest standards: More than 250 species have been recorded. It’s great birding at any season. Perhaps the most exciting time to visit is in late summer and early fall, when water levels are ideal for shorebirds. On a good day in August or September, the mudflats may hold thousands of sandpipers, and anything’s possible. In 2008, a surprise Wood Sandpiper — all the way from Asia! — spent several days here, drawing hundreds of birder-paparazzi.
I enjoy the common species as much as the rarities. I’ve visited this place more than 100 times over the years, and Fern Ridge’s avian spectacle never ceases to amaze. — Noah Strycker
Noah Strycker is the author of Among Penguins (2011) and The Thing with Feathers (2014). He has conducted bird surveys at Fern Ridge for several years.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, native prairie, and oak savanna.
Flat, easy walking. Miles of mowed dikes extend into marsh; may be muddy when wet.
Spring: Blue-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilt, Solitary Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Western Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-headed Blackbird. Summer: Pied-billed, Western, and Clark’s Grebes, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Sora, Caspian and Black Terns, Willow Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Tree, Violet-green, Barn, and Cliff Swallows, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting. Fall: Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least, Western, and Pectoral Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope. Winter: Cackling and “Dusky” Canada Geese, Tundra Swan, ducks, White-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Dunlin, Short-eared Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Shrike, American Pipit. Year-round: Bald Eagle, Acorn Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Marsh and Bewick’s Wrens, Spotted Towhee, Savannah Sparrow, Western Meadowlark.
When to go
Gravel parking lot, pit toilet. Main viewing platform is a sturdy, raised wooden deck with a bench.
State wildlife area. Requires an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife parking permit ($7/day, $22/annual), available online. Main viewing platform accessible year-round, sunrise to sunset. Surrounding dikes open daily from March 15 to October 31 and on Saturdays only during the winter. No public transportation.
A scope is helpful for shorebirds, waterfowl, and distant raptors. Don’t leave valuables in your car.
For more info
Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, (541) 935-2591.
Ken Neilsen Road
Just south of Hwy. 126 and Fisher Rd. Open fields often have geese, raptors, shrikes, larks, and kingbirds.
Fern Ridge Dam
About six miles northwest of Royal Ave. on Clear Lake Rd. Orchard Point and Richardson Parks have good scoping viewpoints.