What kinds of birds can you find in Olympic National Park?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds found in the park. Did you know there have been over 250 species recorded here? As you can imagine, there was no way to include this many birds in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Below I have listed the TEN birds you are most likely to find while visiting Olympic National Park.
#1. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The Bald Eagle is one of the most recognizable birds in Olympic National Park!
But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.
While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!
Bald Eagle Range Map
The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.
Did you know that Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world?
Their nests start “small,” but eagles add new layers each year. The biggest one EVER found was 10 feet wide (3 meters) and 20 feet tall (6 meters) and weighed in at 3 tons! Bald Eagles would keep adding to their nests each year, but what happens is that the structures get so heavy they eventually fall out of the tree, and the birds have to start over.
The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!
Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!
#2. Canada Jay / Gray Jay
- Perisoreus canadensis
- Paler grey on the belly. Darker gray on the backs.
- White cheeks, throat, and forehead.
- Short beak and a long tail.
It’s hard to describe a Canada Jay other than “cute.” These grey birds are smart and adapt easily in Olympic National Park to their surroundings, which allows them to consume almost anything.
Seriously, they have been observed eating the following weird things: ticks off the back of a moose, baby bats, amphibians, and baby birds, in addition to more normal foods like invertebrates, seeds, and berries.
Canada Jay Range Map
Another fascinating fact about them is that they raise their babies during late winter! Interestingly, they don’t attempt to raise a second brood of babies in May or June, which is when most other bird species have babies, and conditions seem more favorable.
So do you call this bird a Canada Jay or a Gray Jay?
Well, the correct name is now Canada Jay, as the name was changed in 2018 by the American Ornithological Society from the Gray Jay. But old habits die hard, and many birders in the United States still refer to this bold corvid as a Gray Jay.
#3. Sooty Grouse
- Dendragapus fuliginosus
- Males are mostly dark in color, with a yellow air sac in their throat, which is surrounded by white feathers. They also have a yellow patch of skin above their eye.
- Females have a mottled brown appearance with dark brown and white markings on their underparts.
To locate a Sooty Grouse in Olympic National Park, it is important to have patience.
One effective approach is to move quietly on foot or drive through open coniferous woodlands during the spring season. In the early morning hours, you might encounter one walking along trails or roadsides, where they gather grit as part of their diet.
Sooty Grouse Range Map
During the day, Sooty Grouse spend their time resting and eating. They search for food on the ground, including plants and insects, and also in trees, where they eat leaves, needles, and buds, particularly in winter. In early spring, the males show off by perching in trees, making brief flights, and performing impressive displays on the ground.
Listen carefully for the distinctive DEEP hooting calls of the male grouse.
#4. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar birds in Olympic National Park!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats. These thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit.
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs. American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#5. Common Loon
- Long bodies with a strong, thick dagger-like bill. They sit low in the water.
- Breeding adults have a black head and a black and white checkerboard back.
- Nonbreeding adults are much duller and have a uniformly grayish back and head.
Common Loons are one of my FAVORITE birds found in Olympic National Park.
These gorgeous birds are insanely strong and fast swimmers and routinely catch fish in high-speed underwater chases. In fact, they have even adapted solid bones (most bird bones are hollow), which makes it easier to dive since they are less buoyant.
Common Loon Range Map
To help prevent other birds from stealing their food, Common Loons typically swallow their prize while still underwater. And to ensure the slippery fish doesn’t escape once caught, loons have rear-facing projections inside their mouth that sink in and provide a tight grip.
One of my favorite things about these birds is the wonderful, eerie sounds they make. Listen for a repertoire of vocalizations, which all signify something. LISTEN BELOW!
For example, their tremolo calls are used when alarmed. Yodeling is given by males to announce their territories. And their famous haunting wail calls help mated pairs locate each other.
#6. Harlequin Duck
How to identify:
- Small duck with a short dark gray bill.
- Breeding males have a dark blue body with rust-brown patches on their sides. Bold white spots on their neck and body and a white facial crescent.
- Females have brown bodies that are paler below. White spots behind the bill and eyes.
Harlequin Ducks are one of the most breathtaking birds you will find in Olympic National Park. First, the coloration on breeding males is spectacular, and it looks like they were painted with beautiful blues, chestnuts, and whites.
Harlequin Duck Range Map
But the most interesting thing about this species is the extreme places where they choose to live. They breed and raise their young mainly alongside fast-moving rivers. In winter, they move to rocky ocean shores that receive lots of wind and large waves.
X-rays of Harlequin Ducks show the punishment their bodies take as they get tossed around in these extreme locations. Almost every individual has multiple healed fractures that they live with!
Unlike many other sea ducks, they are quite vocal. But the funny thing is they make a very un-duck-like noise, which sounds more like a squeaking mouse than your typical quack. This unusual noise has led to their nickname, “Sea Mouse.”
How to identify:
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely one of the most common water birds in Olympic National Park!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#8. Glaucous-winged Gull
- Larus glaucescens
- Adults range from 19.7 to 23.2 inches in length and have a 47.2 to 56.3-inch wingspan.
- Breeding adults are pearly gray above, including the wingtips, and white below.
- They have a yellow bill and pinkish legs.
Glaucous-winged Gulls live in estuaries, bays, rivers, coves, beaches, and rocky shorelines. They may also visit ponds and landfills near the coast. These Gulls primarily nest on low, flat offshore islands, and rooftops.
Like other gulls in Washington and Olympic National Park, they have a varied diet, including shellfish, human refuse, and carrion.
The chicks hatch covered in down and may leave the nest in as little as two days but remain in the immediate vicinity. Both parents work to feed the young. They mature and breed at about four years old. The oldest Glaucous-winged Gull recorded in the wild was over 23 years old.
#9. Great Blue Heron
- A very tall and large water bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over its eye.
- As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
- Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.
Great Blue Herons are typically seen in Olympic National Park along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies in Olympic for a LARGE water bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!
#10. Varied Thrush
- Males are bluish on their back with burnt orange underparts, an orange eye line, and orange throat.
- Females are similar to males but paler.
- Look for the black breast band across their chest.
It can be hard to spot one of these beautiful orange birds in Olympic National Park.
That’s because Varied Thrushes are quite shy and live in dense, dark forests! Most often, they are heard before being seen. Listen for their simple, ringing song.
Varied Thrush Range Map
Which of these birds have you seen before in Olympic National Park?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds that live in Olympic National Park, check out these guides!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!