Oregon: Winter 2020–2021

Winter 2020–2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Adrian Hinkle

Christopher Hinkle

 Recommended citation:

Hinkle, A., and C. Hinkle. 2021. Winter 2020–2021: Oregon. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-b6O> North American Birds.

Winter was warm and dry statewide. Dec–Jan was one of the warmest on record in Portland, and above average in most of the state, while rainfall and snowpack languished below normal. February brought higher precipitation, above average in some areas, but most of the state ended winter with below-normal snowpack and rainfall, with especially severe water shortages in the Klamath Basin. 

The Covid-19 pandemic continued to alter local birding efforts. Many Christmas Bird Counts were cancelled or required limited attendance. Birders stayed closer to home, which contributed to an impressive haul of rare patch and county birds. Statewide highlights included Oregon’s long-overdue first record of Winter Wren, its fourth Ross’ Gull, and its eighth Vermilion Flycatcher.

Abbreviations Christmas Bird Count (CBC), East of the Cascade Mountains (eastside), sewage treatment ponds (STP), West of the Cascade Mountains (westside).

Waterfowl through Shorebirds

An eastside high count of 140,000 Snow Geese at Warehouse Beach, Umatilla Co 28 Jan (R. Morgan) and a westside high count of 17,000 at Sauvie Island, Multnomah Co 27 Dec fit a long-term upward trend. Two Ross’s Geese wintered with Cackling Geese at Finley NWR, Benton Co and in nearby Linn Co 13 Jan+ (D. Robinson) and two were in Brooks, Marion Co 6–7 Dec (D. Mandell). Rarely reported in the region but probably overlooked, a hybrid Snow Goose x Ross’s Goose was north of the Eugene Airport, Lane Co 28–31 Jan (S. Maulding). A Brant, annual in very small numbers in the Willamette Valley, wintered at Finley NWR and nearby Corvallis Airport, Benton Co 26 Dec–13 Feb (D. Robinson). 

Two Blue-winged Teal wintering in Canary, Lane Co 7–15 Jan (J. Mitchell) were the only reports. A hybrid Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal at Fernhill Wetlands, Washington Co 18–20 Jan (Nels Nelson) and one at Talking Water Gardens, Linn Co 14 Feb+ (N. Clements) were notable as very rare winter records. Tufted Ducks showed in slightly above-average numbers. Philomath STP, Benton Co, hosted a female through 4 Dec, a short-tufted male 9 Jan (D. Robinson), and a long-tufted male 14–15 Feb (R. Jilek). An adult male was at Viento State Park, Hood River Co 4 Feb (J. Davis), an immature male was at Svensen Island, Clatsop Co 17 Feb (J. Rasmussen), and an adult male was at Svensen Island 18 Feb+ (M. Patterson). Though often overlooked, a Ring-necked Duck x scaup sp. with a raft of scaup on the Columbia River in Fairview, Multnomah Co (C. Hinkle) was notable. 

White-winged Scoters are regular inland in fall but become very rare mid-winter; a female at Broughton Beach, Multnomah Co 2 Jan (A. Aldrich) represented a Portland CBC first. What was likely the same individual visited nearby Hayden Island 4 Feb. Long-tailed Ducks, not quite annual in winter, had a good showing on the heels of an impressive fall. A female was at Link River Trail, Klamath Co 19 Dec (D. Haupt), a male was in Arlington, Gilliam Co 5–22 Feb (L. Basden, J. Meyers), and two were at Lost Creek Lake, Jackson Co 16 Feb+ (H. Sands). In addition to the expected handful of wintering Red-breasted Mergansers along the Columbia River, a single female-type Red-breasted Merganser was in Ashland, Jackson Co 11 Jan (F. Lospalluto). Exceptional numbers of inland Red-necked Grebes from October and November lingered throughout the winter, with midwinter high counts of five at Mayer State Park, Wasco Co 28 Jan, five at Hayden Island, Multnomah Co 13 Jan, and eight at Hagg Lake, Washington Co 3 Jan. 

A White-winged Dove found 30 Nov in Winchester Bay, Douglas Co continued through 3 Dec. Six Vaux’s Swifts two miles up the Rogue River, Curry Co 27 Dec (W. Michaelis, M. Bressler) represented the first winter record for the state, on the heels of a 15 Dec sighting in Humboldt Co, CA. 

Anna’s Hummingbirds continue expanding their range in eastern OR, with several reports in northeast OR, where they were very rare as recently as ten years ago. An adult male Costa’s Hummingbird wintered at Winchuck River Mouth, Curry Co 22 Dec–6 Feb (A. Hinkle, L. Kahle). A hybrid Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird was in North Bend, Coos Co on 24 Jan (K. Saxton); though underreported, a spate of recent records suggests hybrids may be nearly as regular in Oregon as pure Costa’s. Hybrids should be carefully eliminated before accepting extralimital Costa’s, as some presumed hybrids have been misreported as pure birds in the past few years. The first migrant Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird showed up outside Coquille, Coos Co 3 Feb (K. Saxton), whereas an immature male Rufous Hummingbird photographed at Otter Rock, Lincoln Co 7 Dec–16 Jan (R. Hoyer) represented an extremely rare overwintering record. 

Sandhill Crane is less-than-annual on the OR coast even in migration, so an apparent family group of three present throughout the period at Long Prairie Road, Tillamook Co was especially notable. A Pacific Golden-Plover at Fern Ridge WMA, Lane Co 3 Feb+ (M. Sheehan) provided a not-quite-annual winter sighting. Winter Snowy Plover numbers on the OR coast have skyrocketed over the past decade. Official USFWS survey totals climbed from 227 in 2013 to 703 in 2021. Increases were particularly pronounced on the North Coast, where totals jumped from zero in 2013 and 2014 to 42, 56, and 88 in Clatsop, Tillamook, and Lincoln Cos respectively in 2021 (fide D. Lauten, K. Castelein). A Semipalmated Plover wintered at Livermore Road, Polk Co through 29 Jan; there are only a handful of winter records inland away from Fern Ridge Reservoir. A Mountain Plover at Siltcoos River Estuary, Lane Co 16 Jan+ (D. Farrar) was a first county and 15th state record. Mountain Plovers have been remarkably consistent in the state with about three per decade exclusively in late fall or winter. Years can pass without a wintering Marbled Godwit, so up to 52 wintering at Yaquina Bay, Lincoln Co and seven at Tillamook Bay, Tillamook Co were notable. Two Long-billed Curlews on Falk Road, Linn Co 27 Dec+ (B. Combs) join a handful of previous Linn Co records as the only inland in winter for the state. 

A Horned Puffin was photographed between the jetties at Tillamook Bay mouth, Tillamook Co 15 Feb (C. Cordy, D. Harrington) and one flew past Boiler Bay, Lincoln Co 1 Dec (Gerard Lillie). The species is irregular and irruptive in OR and can show up any month of the year. 

Gulls through Hawks

Oregon’s fourth Ross’s Gull flew up the bay at the Yaquina Bay South Jetty, Lincoln Co 30 Jan (ph. N. Clements, C. Strope). It was particularly notable as the first West Coast record of a first-cycle Ross’s Gull. A Heerman’s Gull at McNary Dam 22 Dec was not only an exceptional inland winter record, but also a Umatilla Co first (S. Schlick). Lesser Black-Backed Gulls have been found annually in increasing numbers in OR since 2016; this winter’s total was the highest yet, including a 3rd-cycle at Wireless Road, Clatsop Co 6 Feb (M. Sultany) and a 2nd-cycle at Yachats River Mouth, Lincoln Co 25 Feb (L. Kahle). On the eastside, an adult was seen in The Dalles, Wasco Co on 20 Feb after being seen regularly from mid-October through 26 December. A second-cycle there 19–21 Feb may have been a returning individual last seen in November. Another adult at nearby Deschutes River Mouth, Sherman Co and Wasco Co 10 Feb (J. Withgott) could have been a wandering bird from The Dalles. Lastly, the greater Klamath Basin finally got its first Lesser Black-backed Gull when a 2nd-cycle was photographed at Veterans Park, Klamath Co 28 Feb+ (D. Haupt). A first-cycle Glaucous Gull at McNary Dam, Umatilla Co 22–23 Dec provided a not-quite-annual eastside sighting (C. Lindsey). 

A rare eastside Red-throated Loon at Boardman Marina 31 Jan (C. Hinkle) provided a first Morrow Co record. Yellow-billed Loons have barely been annual the past decade. Singles at Hagg Lake, Washington Co 1–5 Jan (R. Bennett, C. Scotland, J. Scotland) and at Foster Reservoir, Linn Co 16–19 Feb (K. Yalcin) were both county firsts and brought the state’s inland total to seven. A late Flesh-footed Shearwater was photographed 20 miles w. of Newport, Lincoln Co 5 Dec (Oregon Pelagic Tours) during the only pelagic trip of the period. 

Two immature Brandt’s Cormorants roosted under the Interstate Bridge in North Portland, Multnomah Co 13–14 Jan (ph. A. Aldrich) and presumably one of the same birds was found thirteen miles upriver at the Sandy River Mouth, Multnomah Co 18–20 Jan (ph. R. Barnes-Rickett). Brandt’s Cormorant is exceedingly rare inland, although there are at least three previous inland records globally, all from California. Curiously, Pelagic Cormorant was first recorded as far inland as Multnomah Co in 2007 but is now nearly annual up the Columbia River as far as the Portland area; fitting that trend, one was seen at the Sandy River Mouth, Multnomah Co 1 Jan (C. Hinkle). 

Small flocks of American White Pelicans began regularly wintering in the state for the first time in about 2016. This winter there were too many to list, including singles in Astoria, Clatsop Co, Klamath Falls, Klamath Co, and small flocks in the Rogue and Willamette Valleys and on or near the Columbia River in Sherman, Wasco, Multnomah, and Columbia Cos. High counts included 83 at Agate Lake, Jackson Co 26 Dec (R. Allen, S. Peat), 182 at Fern Ridge Reservoir, Lane Co 14 Dec dwindling to 64 on 1 Jan, and at least 20 at Sauvie Island, Multnomah Co 29 Jan. Hit-or-miss in winter, only three Brown Pelicans were reported, all singles on the coast from Florence northward during Jan or Feb. Last fall’s immature Snowy Egret continued at Fern Ridge Reservoir, Lane Co through the entire period. 

Several of the unprecedented seven Ferruginous Hawks that appeared in the Willamette Valley starting in late October 2020 overwintered. One was on Hoffman Road, Polk Co 1 Jan (B. Tice). Two were on Dawson Road, Benton Co 1 Dec–9 Jan, one of which lingered there until 2 Feb. One was two miles east of Monroe, Benton Co 8 Feb; and at least one was in the vicinity of Blueberry Road and Potter Road in Linn Co through 21 Feb. All were immatures. 

Woodpeckers through Thrushes

Four Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were reported, a typical winter total for the state. Clatsop Co became the final coastal county to get a record when a juvenile was found in Brownsmead 23 Jan+ (M. Patterson). A pure Red-naped Sapsucker wintered at Riverside Park, Josephine Co 1 Dec–29 Jan (R. Cooper), and one was found by Painted Bunting twitchers in Hayesville, Marion Co 1 Feb – 10 Feb (R. Friese). Red-naped Sapsuckers are significantly rarer than Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on the westside, and are always outnumbered west of the Cascades by hybrid Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsuckers. The presence of only one Lewis’s Woodpecker in the Willamette Valley corroborated a long-term downward trend. 

A wintering Gyrfalcon continued at Livermore Road, Polk Co through February, while one northwest of Brownsville, Linn Co 13 Jan (Jeff Fleischer) may have been the same roaming individual. One was 4.5 miles north of Condon, Gilliam Co 14 Jan (Paul Sullivan) and another overwintered near Joseph, Wallowa Co where annual. Away from those more-expected wintering areas, one was on the beach at S. Jetty Columbia River, Clatsop Co 13 Dec (P. Teague), one terrorized the gulls at Yaquina Head, Lincoln Co 24 Dec (A. Hinkle, C. Hinkle, E. Scattaregia), one flew past Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint, Lincoln Co 26 Dec (M. Cahill), and one was in Rockaway Beach, Tillamook Co 7 Feb (E. Watts). Gyrfalcons are less-than-annual on the OR coast, so one wide-ranging individual may have accounted for some or all of the coastal reports. 

Say’s Phoebes are increasing winterers in the Willamette Valley and on the South Coast, with about 30 records in the Willamette Valley this winter. A stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher graced a rural barnyard six miles east of Albany, Linn Co 20 Jan–11 Feb (T. Schamber), nicely fitting the trend of vagrancy in the Pacific Northwest—half of Oregon and Washington’s 16 combined records come from winter. A Cassin’s Vireo in Ashland, Jackson Co 10 Feb (P. Trail) was the only report for this barely-annual winterer. 

The Blue Jay invasion from fall 2020 was a harbinger of a second straight banner winter for the species, with 24 individuals in nine locations, including a state high count of six in Quail Hollow, Baker Co 24 Dec (H. Sanders). The invasion was limited to the far quadrant of the state, as two in Malheur Co were the only ones away from northeast Oregon. Hybrid Black-capped x Mountain Chickadees are regular in Klickitat Co, WA, but rarely reported in OR. One was near Eagle Caves west of The Dalles, Wasco Co 20 Dec (B. Cass Talbot). A Pygmy Nuthatch visited a suet feeder in Eugene’s Glen Oak City Park 28 Jan+ (T. Cable) providing a Lane Co first. The species is very rare on the westside, with five fall records from Curry Co and single winter records from Portland and Salem.  

Rock Wrens are less-than-annual in winter on the westside; one was photographed at China Beach, Curry Co 18 Dec (J. Withgott) and one was east of Langlois, Coos Co from 29 Oct–13 Dec (T. Wahl). A Canyon Wren at Angel’s Rest, Multnomah Co Feb 7 (E. Beachy, D. Mayer) was the furthest west record for the western Columbia River Gorge, where rare and local. A House Wren at Borden Beck Wildlife Preserve, Deschutes Co Jan 16 (P. Low) was especially notable for winter on the eastside. Oregon’s long-overdue first Winter Wren was well-documented in McDonald-Dunn Forest, Benton Co 28 Feb+ (C. Centanni, C. Kelly Jett). Oregon became the last state in the Lower 48 to record one. Surprisingly, the bird spent most of its time in Douglas fir forest, surrounded by singing Pacific Wrens on territory.

Waxwings through Blackbirds

Bohemian Waxwing had an average showing but were limited to northeast OR, except for one at Smith Rock State Park, Deschutes Co 29 Dec (N. Mrvelj). Up to four Pine Grosbeaks lingered at Marys Peak, Benton Co until 10 Dec. Common Redpoll showed poorly, with two individuals in Deschutes Co and a scattering of small groups up to 20 in northeast OR. Snow Buntings appeared in average or slightly-above-average numbers, including up to four wintering at North Spit Coos Bay, Coos Co at the southern edge of the regular range (T. Rodenkirk). 

A Chipping Sparrow in Arlington 29 Jan (C. Hinkle) was less-than-annual in winter for the eastside. An about-average total of eight Clay-colored Sparrows was reported—four in coastal Curry Co and four in the northern Willamette Valley. Rare but annual away from regular eastside wintering grounds, an American Tree Sparrow was on the lower Rogue River, Curry Co 15 Dec (M. Bressler, W. Michaelis) and one continued in Cape Meares, Tillamook Co through 22 Jan (K. Scaldeferri). Four eastside and two westside Harris’s Sparrows made for an average showing. 


A Multnomah Co-first Orchard Oriole was found in southeast Portland 16 Dec (R. Lockett) and frequented a hummingbird feeder and nearby apple tree until 7 Feb, a few days before a heavy icestorm. A Hooded Oriole, likely a returning bird, was in Nehalem, Tillamook Co for the second winter in a row 31 Dec+ (C. Hinkle). Two wintering Bullock’s Orioles in Bandon, one in Gold Beach, and one in Brookings was about expected for the South Coast; a Bullock’s Oriole in Klamath Falls 31 Jan was exceptional in winter for the eastside (S. Kornfield). 

Oregon averaged one-and-a-half Rusty Blackbirds per year over the past decade, so five this winter was exceptional: one in farmland north of Union, Union Co 15–28 Dec (N. Clements), one at dairy farm two miles north of Cornelius, Washington Co 4–15 Jan (C. Hinkle), one on Creek Drive, Linn Co 15 Jan+ (J. Simmons), and two south of Enterprise, Wallowa Co 19–21 Dec (M. Hansen, K. Zumwalt). The celebrity male Great-tailed Grackle in North Portland continued through February, marking the first winter westside record north of Jackson Co.

Warblers through Buntings

An about-expected five Nashville Warblers wintered, four on the South Coast, Curry and Coos Cos and one in Corvallis, Benton Co. Conversely, it was one of the worst winters in recent memory for Palm Warblers, which sometimes winter in flocks of ten plus. This winter, only about twelve Palm Warblers were reported from nine locations. A Black-throated Gray Warbler on Sauvie Island, Columbia Co 24 Dec (L. Khale) and one at a feeder in Oregon City, Clackamas Co 12 Feb (S. Ziolko) were the only records for this barely-annual winterer. Hermit Warblers are similarly scarce in winter, so one in Springfield, Lane Co 29–30 Dec (R. Robb) and one a quarter mile away 21 Feb (S. Maulding) were likely the same individual. An average showing of four Western Tanagers was reported on the westside in winter. 

Last but not least, an adult male Painted Bunting was seen at a private feeder in rural Benton Co 18 Dec–7 Jan. Possibly the same adult male Painted Bunting (based on plumage aberrations) was seen in urban Hayesville, Marion Co 21 Jan–11 Feb (D. Hendricks). While all five of the OR and WA region’s Painted Buntings from the outer coast have been green birds (females or immature males), nine of the ten records away from the outer coast—including these two—have been adult males.

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 29 July 2021.

Photos–Oregon: Winter 2020–2021

Click image to view fullscreen with caption.