Prineville Birding

The diverse habitats that cover the region around Prineville are host to over Chuckar250 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:

Thank you to the East Cascades Bird Conservancy for information on local birding.

Common Birds of the Prineville and Crook County Area:

American AvocetGolden-crowned SparrowRing-necked Duck
American BitternGooseRing-necked Pheasant
American CootGray FlycatcherRock Dove
American CrowGray JayRock Wren
American DipperGray-crowned Rosy FinchRoss’ Goose
American GoldfinchGreat EgretRough-legged Hawk
American KestrelGreat Horned OwlRuby-crowned Kinglet
American PipitGreat-blue HeronRuddy Duck
American RobinGreater ScaupRuffed Grouse
American WigeonGreater WhitefrontedRufous Hummingbird
Ash-throated FlycatcherGreater YellowlegsSabine’s Gull
Baird’s SandpiperGreen-tailed TowheeSage Grouse
Bald EagleGreen-winged TealSage Sparrow
Bank SwallowHairy WoodpeckerSage Thrasher
Barn OwlHammond’s FlycatcherSanderling
Barn SwallowHarris’ SparrowSandhill Crane
Barrow’s Golden-eyeHermit ThrushSavannah Sparrow
Belted KingfisherHooded MerganzerSay’s Phoebe
Black TernHorned LarkScrub Jay
Black-backedHouse FinchSemi-palmated Plover
Black-billed MagpieHouse SparrowSemi-palmated Sandpiper
Black-chinnedHouse WrenSharp-shinned Hawk
Black-crownedHummingbirdShort-billed Dowitcher
Black-headed GrosbeakKilldeerShort-eared Owl
Black-necked StiltLapland LongspurSnow Bunting
Black-throated GrayLark SparrowSnow Goose
Blue GrouseLazuli BuntingSolitary Sandpiper
Blue-winged TealLeast SandpiperSong Sparrow
Bonaparte’s GullLesser GoldfinchSora
Brewer’s BlackbirdLesser ScaupSpotted Sandpiper
Brewer’s SparrowLesser YellowlegsSpotted Towhee
Brown CreeperLewis’ WoodpeckerSteller’s Jay
Brown-headed CowbirdLincoln SparrowSwainson’s Hawk
BuffleheadLoggerhead ShrikeTownsend’s Solitaire
Bullock’s OrioleLong-billed CurlewTownsend’s Warbler
Burrowing OwlLong-billed DowitcherTree Swallow
BushtitLong-eared OwlTri-colored Blackbird
California GullMacGillivray’s WarblerTrumpeter Swan
California QuailMallardTundra Swan
Calliope HummingbirdMarsh WrenTurkey Vulture
Canada GooseMerlinVaried Thrush
CanvasbackMountain BluebirdVaux’s Swift
Canyon WrenMountain ChickadeeVeery
Caspian TernMountain QuailVesper Sparrow
Cassin’s FinchMourning DoveViolet-green Swallow
Cassin’s VireoN. Rough-winged SwallowVirginia Rail
Cedar WaxwingNashville WarblerWarbler
Chipping SparrowNight-heronWarbling Vireo
ChukarNorthern FlickerWestern Bluebird
Cinnamon TealNorthern GoshawkWestern Grebe
Clark’s GrebeNorthern HarrierWestern Kingbird
Clark’s NutcrackerNorthern PintailWestern Meadowlark
Cliff SwallowNorthern Pygmy OwlWestern Sandpiper
Common LoonNorthern Saw-whet OwlWestern Screech Owl
Common MerganzerNorthern ShovelerWestern Tanager
Common NighthawkNorthern ShrikeWestern Wood Peewee
Common PoorwillOlive-sided FlycatcherWhite Pelican
Common RavenOrange-crowned WarblerWhite-breasted Nuthatch
Common RedpollOspreyWhite-crowned Sparrow
Common YellowthroatPacific Slope FlycatcherWhite-faced Ibis
Cooper’s HawkPectoral SandpiperWhite-headed
Dark-eyed JuncoPeregrine FalconWhite-throated Sparrow
DC CormorantPied-billed GrebeWhite-throated Swift
Downy WoodpeckerPileated WoodpeckerWild Turkey
DunlinPine SiskinWillet
Dusky FlycatcherPinyon JayWilliamson’s Sapsucker
Eared GrebePrairie FalconWillow Flycatcher
Eastern KingbirdPygmy NuthatchWilson’s Phalarope
Eurasian WigeonRed CrossbillWilson’s Snipe
European StarlingRed-breasted NuthatchWilson’s Warbler
Evening GrosbeakRed-breasted SapsuckerWinter Wren
Ferruginous HawkRedheadWood Duck
Flammulated OwlRed-naped SapsuckerWoodpecker
Forster’ TernRed-necked PhalaropeYellow Warbler
Fox SparrowRed-tailed HawkYellow-breasted Chat
Franklin’s GullRed-winged BlackbirdYellow-headed Blackbird
GadwallRing-billed GullYellow-rumped Warbler
Golden Eagle
Golden-crowned Kinglet