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Ultimate Fall Birding Guide to San Juan Island

Bird watch from a kayakAs the leaves change from green to yellow and the temperature cools off, different birds love to come out to play. One of the best things about birding the San Juan Islands is that every experience is different. Spring and summertime birds are vastly different than the species that stick around through the fall and winter.

While the entire island provides choice viewing points for all sorts of birds, places like the Lime Kiln State Park and the San Juan Island National Historical Park are where birds are known to nest. You will mostly see woodland birds, songbirds, and varying birds of prey on land. Several of the marine species can be seen from shore.

Bird Swimming on Top of Water

What birds to look for:

California Quail: These ground-dwelling birds are very distinctive with their forward dropping plume. These handsome little birds are quite common in protected areas and can often be seen scurrying around in packs.

Pacific Loon: If you visit during the summer, you may miss out on this beautiful water bird. The differentiating factors of the Pacific Loon are the size and unique coloring pattern of the breeding adults. Keep an eye out for a dove-grey head contrasted with black underparts and crisp white lines down the sides. The red eyes will be a sure giveaway as well as the dark purple gloss on the neck.

Bald Eagle: What a magnificent sight to behold! The Bald Eagle is the most widely recognized of the birds of prey and draws a crowd to marvel at its beauty. Abundant on the island, look for large nests high in trees and telephone poles as indicators that one may be nearby.

Black Turnstone: This wading bird is only found on the Pacific Coast of North America and migrates along it throughout the year. During the summertime, these birds are mating in the southern states, but in the fall and winter, they return to their rocky coastal habitats. These plump birds are blackish-brown on top and stark white on the bottom. If not observant, they may appear to be simple rocks.

Great Horned Owl on San Juan IslandGreat Horned Owl: The famous Great Horned Owl is one of the most recognized owls and although you can find these magnificent birds of prey across Northern and Southern America, they are known to nest in the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Sightings for these birds are quite common and this may be one of the easiest places to see one in their natural habitat.

Woodpeckers: You can expect to see, or at least hear, a woodpecker at least once if you venture out into nature. The Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker are all known to nest on the island and are common occurrences year-round.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee: Native to the Pacific Northwest, these birds are not only on most birder’s checklists, but an easy species to find and identify. These handsome birds are as plump as they are small. You can find them fluttering from tree to tree in search of insects.

Fox Sparrow: While multiple species of sparrow live on the island. The Fox Sparrow is one of the most unique. As one of the largest members of the sparrow family and brightly colored in browns, oranges, and reds, these little guys stand out. These birds are rare finds during the warm summertime but are more common throughout the fall and winter.

Around the island, you will notice geese, ducks, pigeons, and seagulls as well. You can add those to the list but if you are looking for some winter birding action or to cross off a couple hard to find species off your list, then head out into the preserves for some good old-fashioned autumn birding! Plan your stay at the Tucker House Inn, an upscale Victorian B&B in the heart of Friday Harbor and start your bird watching excursion. Our concierge will assist with reservations if you prefer a guided tour either by boat or land.

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