The diverse habitats that cover the region around Prineville are host to over 250 species of birds. Great birding, coupled with spectacular scenery, make Prineville a birding paradise. Birding is a growing pastime for Central Oregon outdoors people, and Prineville is a terrific jumping-off point for several day trips that involve a myriad of habitats and a diverse population of resident birds. Driving routes can start in Prineville and go in every direction, supplying a bird fancier with a different set of birds on each different route. Good mixes of common birds are punctuated by a few local specialties to supply birders of all skill levels an enjoyable and unique experience. For a pleasant outdoor adventure, birding the Prineville area simply can’t be topped. Please respect the rights of property owners and practice acceptable birding ethics while enjoying the birds of our area.
BIRDING NORTH OF PRINEVILLE
It is not recommended that this route be traveled in the winter, as roads will be blocked by snow.
The area north of Prineville is dominated by the Ochoco Mountains. Fertile farmlands give way to the verdant slopes of these mountains and this diversity of habitat is mirrored by a diverse population of birds. Head north out of Prineville on Main Street until you leave the city and enter a residential area. Turn east on Barnes Butte Rd. and travel just over a mile to view Barnes Butte Lake. Here, a colony of tri-colored blackbirds nests each spring. Winter waterfowl are abundant and rails can be heard calling in the cattails.
Return to Main Street and head north. This road soon becomes McKay Road. Stay on McKay and scan the farm fields for raptors, corvids, and blackbirds. Mountain Bluebirds and Western Meadowlarks are abundant, as are Western Kingbirds. Both shrike species enjoy hunting in this area at different times of the year. Travel north on McKay until the road comes to a “Y”. Stay right and follow the paved road for 16.3 miles (the road becomes USFS Rd. 33 and then Rd. 27). Make several stops and search for MacGillivray’s Warbler and Winter Wren. All three nuthatches can be found here along with Townsend’s Warbler and Warbling Vireo.
At 16.3 miles, the road takes a 90° angle turn. Stay on the pavement and take this turn as it will take you to the highest point in the Ochocos. Stay on this road until the pavement ends (about 7 miles). You will see a change in avifauna from this point. Golden-crowned Kinglets occupy the firs and Lincoln Sparrows frequent the high meadows. Gray Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers appear along with the more standard nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, and Red Crossbills. A large burn occurred in this area and Pileated Woodpeckers are joined by Black-backed and White-headed Woodpeckers.
From the end of the pavement, back track about 14 miles and locate a dirt road marked Rd. 33. Take this road about 14 miles east to hook up with Mill Creek Rd. Pygmy Owls are common on this road as are Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers. Listen for Cassin’s Vireos and Olive-sided Flycatchers. Mill Creek Rd. will take you back to Hwy. 126 and into Prineville. This road is good for dippers under the bridges, Western Bluebirds on the fences, and Bushtit in the junipers. This may be the best location in the Ochocos for Pygmy Nuthatch.
BIRDING SOUTH OF PRINEVILLE
The region south of Prineville is dominated by the Crooked River Canyon and the dry sagebrush lands of the High Desert. Juniper forests, sage steppe, canyons, and farmland attract a wide variety of bird life.
From Main Street in Prineville, travel south out of town and follow the signs to Bowman Dam. This road becomes Hwy. 27. Follow Hwy. 27 to Bowman Dam (about 20 miles) and you will be treated to one of the most scenic drives in all of Oregon. The birding is just as spectacular. Canyon and Rock Wrens sing as White-throated Swifts swoop overhead. Chukars are common near Bowman Dam and Yellowbreasted Chat haunt the willow patches. Bullock’s Orioles nest here, along with Yellow Warblers and Lazuli Buntings. Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Osprey, and Red-tailed Hawks all nest here. While atop Bowman Dam, scope Prineville Reservoir for hunting Bald Eagles or Western Grebes.
From Bowman Dam, continue along Hwy. 27 for another 27 miles. The slopes above the dam and its accompanying canyons are home to Gray Flycatchers, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Black-throated Gray Warblers. Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows are common here as well. Listen for Cassin’s Finches, Bushtit, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. While enjoying the high desert views offered by Hwy. 27, stop frequently and listen for the elusive Pinyon Jay. These will often be found in juniper groves on hillsides. This is also a terrific area for Mountain Bluebirds and Western Meadowlarks. Side trips along Salt Creek, Little Bear Creek (especially if you want to see Green-tailed Towhee), and Bear Creek are recommended if you have time. Bringing a map along is recommended if you get off of Hwy. 27.
As you travel south, the area will get drier and the vegetation will slowly grade out of juniper and into sage. Now you are in Sage Sparrow and Sage Thrasher territory. Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows join the above singers to form the high desert morning chorus. If raptors are your fancy, this road provides a feast. Kestrels abound and Red-tailed Hawks sweep the hillsides for prey. Prairie Falcons are joined by hunting Golden Eagles in the open areas and Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks are sometimes seen. Hwy. 27 joins Hwy. 20, which will take you to Bend, or you can retrace your route and enjoy it all over again. Perhaps the most productive birding from Prineville can be accessed by traveling east by way of Hwy. 26.
BIRDING EAST OF PRINEVILLE
About 4 miles east of Prineville lies the Ochoco Reservoir. The deep water of the west end of this water body sometimes harbors deep-water birds like loons and the occasional sea duck. The campground near mid-lake can be productive in winter for waxwings, grosbeaks, and Townsend’s Solitaires. The main birding attraction of this lake is the shallow east shore. Here, shorebirds abound and White Pelicans make an annual appearance. Access to this end can be tricky, but may be gained near where Mill Creek crosses under Hwy. 26.
From the end of Ochoco Reservoir, travel another 7 miles and take a turn off of Highway 26 onto Ochoco Creek Road. Along this route, you can make several stops to enjoy the Pygmy Nuthatches, Magpies, Western Bluebirds, and other forest species. Travel 8.5 miles along Ochoco Cr. Rd. until you come to Ochoco Ranger Station. The campground here is famous for breeding populations of Veery, Lazuli Bunting, and Calliope Hummingbirds. MacGillivray’s Warblers are common, as are Western Tanagers and both Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers.
After Ochoco Ranger Station, the road becomes USFS Rd. 42 or Canyon Cr. Rd. Take this road another 12 miles, stopping frequently along the way, to Summit Prairie. The Prairie is on private, land but terrific birding can be done right along the road. Pay particular attention to the willows on the west edge of the prairie as they will likely produce Willow Flycatchers, Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers, White-headed Woodpeckers, and a host of passerines. Look for Sandhill Cranes and Long-billed Curlews in the prairie itself. Take Rd. 42 to the far end of the prairie and turn onto Forest Rd. 3010 and travel a half mile to the Cold Springs Guard Station. The birding is terrific here, but the grounds are reserved for campers and should be birded from the road. Where you go from this point depends on whether you have a good map. You may want to turn around and head back the way you came, but a great route can return you to Prineville by taking Rd. 22 along the north side of the prairie to Walton Lake. From Walton Lake, you can follow the signs to Prineville. This beautiful route will yield plenty of woodpeckers and forest passerines, as well as a possible Goshawk or Ruffed Grouse.
BIRDING WEST OF PRINEVILLE
The area west of Prineville is dominated by farmland, but there are many natural sage and juniper areas to bird. Take Hwy. 126 west out of Prineville and look for Houston Lake Rd. off to the north after you climb out of the valley. Houston Lake Rd. hosts plenty of Brewer’s Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, Loggerhead Shrike, and the occasional Lark Sparrow. Gray Flycatchers can be found as well. About 6 miles along Houston Lake Rd., you will see Little Houston Lake. This is a good place for waterfowl. Short-eared Owls roost here in winter.
Continue on Houston Lake Rd. as it turns to the south and becomes Williams Rd. This will bring you to the little town of Powell Butte where you can stop at the store for refreshments. From Powell Butte, travel west along highway 126 for 1/2 mile to Reif Rd. Turn south on Reif Rd. This is one of the most productive winter raptor areas in Central Oregon. Winter brings abundant Rough-legged, Red-tailed, and Ferruginous Hawks to this road. Kestrels, Prairie Falcons, Harriers, and Short-eared Owls have all heard of the rodent banquet available here. 2.7 miles south on Reif Rd., take a west turn on Bussett Rd. and work this one-mile stretch very carefully. Sage Sparrows nest here, as do most of the other sage species. At the end of the road, you will find the Powell Butte Hwy. that will take you back to Powell Butte and on to Prineville.
Important Birding Contacts:
- Oregon Field Ornithologists – http://www.oregonbirds.org/
- Oregon Birders Online – http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/OBOL.html
- Central Oregon Birders Online – firstname.lastname@example.org
- East Cascades Bird Conservancy – 541-419-2647
- Local Birding Hotline – Dean Hale 541-388-1770 email@example.com
- Prineville Birder – Chuck Gates 541-923-1320 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to the East Cascades Bird Conservancy for information on local birding.
Common Birds of the Prineville and Crook County Area:
|American Avocet||Golden-crowned Sparrow||Ring-necked Duck|
|American Bittern||Goose||Ring-necked Pheasant|
|American Coot||Gray Flycatcher||Rock Dove|
|American Crow||Gray Jay||Rock Wren|
|American Dipper||Gray-crowned Rosy Finch||Ross’ Goose|
|American Goldfinch||Great Egret||Rough-legged Hawk|
|American Kestrel||Great Horned Owl||Ruby-crowned Kinglet|
|American Pipit||Great-blue Heron||Ruddy Duck|
|American Robin||Greater Scaup||Ruffed Grouse|
|American Wigeon||Greater Whitefronted||Rufous Hummingbird|
|Ash-throated Flycatcher||Greater Yellowlegs||Sabine’s Gull|
|Baird’s Sandpiper||Green-tailed Towhee||Sage Grouse|
|Bald Eagle||Green-winged Teal||Sage Sparrow|
|Bank Swallow||Hairy Woodpecker||Sage Thrasher|
|Barn Owl||Hammond’s Flycatcher||Sanderling|
|Barn Swallow||Harris’ Sparrow||Sandhill Crane|
|Barrow’s Golden-eye||Hermit Thrush||Savannah Sparrow|
|Belted Kingfisher||Hooded Merganzer||Say’s Phoebe|
|Black Tern||Horned Lark||Scrub Jay|
|Black-backed||House Finch||Semi-palmated Plover|
|Black-billed Magpie||House Sparrow||Semi-palmated Sandpiper|
|Black-chinned||House Wren||Sharp-shinned Hawk|
|Black-headed Grosbeak||Killdeer||Short-eared Owl|
|Black-necked Stilt||Lapland Longspur||Snow Bunting|
|Black-throated Gray||Lark Sparrow||Snow Goose|
|Blue Grouse||Lazuli Bunting||Solitary Sandpiper|
|Blue-winged Teal||Least Sandpiper||Song Sparrow|
|Bonaparte’s Gull||Lesser Goldfinch||Sora|
|Brewer’s Blackbird||Lesser Scaup||Spotted Sandpiper|
|Brewer’s Sparrow||Lesser Yellowlegs||Spotted Towhee|
|Brown Creeper||Lewis’ Woodpecker||Steller’s Jay|
|Brown-headed Cowbird||Lincoln Sparrow||Swainson’s Hawk|
|Bufflehead||Loggerhead Shrike||Townsend’s Solitaire|
|Bullock’s Oriole||Long-billed Curlew||Townsend’s Warbler|
|Burrowing Owl||Long-billed Dowitcher||Tree Swallow|
|Bushtit||Long-eared Owl||Tri-colored Blackbird|
|California Gull||MacGillivray’s Warbler||Trumpeter Swan|
|California Quail||Mallard||Tundra Swan|
|Calliope Hummingbird||Marsh Wren||Turkey Vulture|
|Canada Goose||Merlin||Varied Thrush|
|Canvasback||Mountain Bluebird||Vaux’s Swift|
|Canyon Wren||Mountain Chickadee||Veery|
|Caspian Tern||Mountain Quail||Vesper Sparrow|
|Cassin’s Finch||Mourning Dove||Violet-green Swallow|
|Cassin’s Vireo||N. Rough-winged Swallow||Virginia Rail|
|Cedar Waxwing||Nashville Warbler||Warbler|
|Chipping Sparrow||Night-heron||Warbling Vireo|
|Chukar||Northern Flicker||Western Bluebird|
|Cinnamon Teal||Northern Goshawk||Western Grebe|
|Clark’s Grebe||Northern Harrier||Western Kingbird|
|Clark’s Nutcracker||Northern Pintail||Western Meadowlark|
|Cliff Swallow||Northern Pygmy Owl||Western Sandpiper|
|Common Loon||Northern Saw-whet Owl||Western Screech Owl|
|Common Merganzer||Northern Shoveler||Western Tanager|
|Common Nighthawk||Northern Shrike||Western Wood Peewee|
|Common Poorwill||Olive-sided Flycatcher||White Pelican|
|Common Raven||Orange-crowned Warbler||White-breasted Nuthatch|
|Common Redpoll||Osprey||White-crowned Sparrow|
|Common Yellowthroat||Pacific Slope Flycatcher||White-faced Ibis|
|Cooper’s Hawk||Pectoral Sandpiper||White-headed|
|Dark-eyed Junco||Peregrine Falcon||White-throated Sparrow|
|DC Cormorant||Pied-billed Grebe||White-throated Swift|
|Downy Woodpecker||Pileated Woodpecker||Wild Turkey|
|Dusky Flycatcher||Pinyon Jay||Williamson’s Sapsucker|
|Eared Grebe||Prairie Falcon||Willow Flycatcher|
|Eastern Kingbird||Pygmy Nuthatch||Wilson’s Phalarope|
|Eurasian Wigeon||Red Crossbill||Wilson’s Snipe|
|European Starling||Red-breasted Nuthatch||Wilson’s Warbler|
|Evening Grosbeak||Red-breasted Sapsucker||Winter Wren|
|Ferruginous Hawk||Redhead||Wood Duck|
|Flammulated Owl||Red-naped Sapsucker||Woodpecker|
|Forster’ Tern||Red-necked Phalarope||Yellow Warbler|
|Fox Sparrow||Red-tailed Hawk||Yellow-breasted Chat|
|Franklin’s Gull||Red-winged Blackbird||Yellow-headed Blackbird|
|Gadwall||Ring-billed Gull||Yellow-rumped Warbler|