This picturesque site is Oregon's largest known autumn concentration of migrating raptors.
By Jerry Liguori | Published: 8/23/2016
I love to watch the hawk migration at Bonney Butte because the site offers amazing topside views of raptors against an astounding mountainous backdrop, which includes Mt. Hood. It’s an excellent site to see one of the rarer raptors, such as dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, or Red-shouldered Hawk. They can pop up on the horizon at any minute and pass by at close range, just as an adult light-morph Harlan’s did during my last visit.
Bonney Butte averages about 2,900 raptors of 16-18 species per season and countless non-raptor migrants. As you approach the lookout, you’ll notice educational kiosks that show migrant raptors and provide information about the site and landmarks visible on the horizon. The count is conducted from a rocky outcrop atop the peak. HawkWatch International has been conducting counts at Bonney Butte since 1994 to monitor long-term trends of raptor populations.
The most commonly seen birds of prey are Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Cooper’s Hawks, Turkey Vulture, and Golden Eagle. The site is also noted for its relatively high numbers of Merlins — up to 100 or more per year, some of which are the “Black” subspecies. — Jerry Liguori
Jerry Liguori is the author of three books on raptor identification. He also wrote about Yaki and Lipan Points in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, Hotspot Near You No. 196, Chelan Ridge Hawk Watch in Pateros, Washington, No. 220, and the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch in Corpus Christi, Texas, No. 241.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
High-elevation montane area surrounded by evergreen forest and ridgelines. Central Oregon shrub-steppe region immediately to the east.
Steep 0.5-mile hike to the lookout. Viewing area relatively flat.
Raptors: Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Cooper’s Hawks, Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Merlin. Other fall birds: Dusky and Ruffed Grouse, Acorn, Lewis’s, Pileated, and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Mountain Chickadee, Pacific, Bewick’s, and Rock Wrens, Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s Warblers, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Solitaire, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Red Crossbill. Rarities: Red-shouldered Hawk, American Three-toed Woodpecker.
When to go
Official count 9-5 daily, August 28 through October 31; peak flights usually occur the last two weeks of September. Counts not conducted during heavy rain or snow. Best time of day 11-3, but on high-volume days, birds can be seen from sunup to sundown.
Daily environmental-education programs given by HawkWatch International staff. Overnight camping available at Bonney Meadows Campground, which has six sites with a vault toilet. Portable restrooms at trailhead.
National forest. No fees. Open 24 hours a day. High-clearance vehicles recommended for the last four miles of the drive, but the site is accessible by car.
Bring sunscreen, hat, binoculars, warm clothes for varying weather conditions, folding chair, water, food, and sunglasses.
For more info
Mountain roads that lead to the butte
On nearby foot trails, look for migrant and resident songbirds in the forest, along the forest edge, or overhead.
Mouth of Hood River
About 32 miles north of Bonney Butte, where the Hood River empties into the Columbia River. Ducks, waders, shorebirds, gulls, terns.