It’s that time of year again! Fall is beginning to creep up on us, and here in the Salish Sea, we are looking forward to seeing some old friends of ours- migrating birds! We have over 200 species of birds here in the San Juan Islands, and some bird species are here during the summer months specifically for feeding and breeding, such as the Rhinoceros auklets, Rufous hummingbirds, Brown-headed cowbirds, Violet-green swallows, White-crowned sparrows, and others. Some, however, begin to migrate out of our waters during the summer and begin to return back for the remainder of the year. Here’s a quick list of some feathered friends we are waiting the arrival of…

Fox Sparrow


  • Usually found far north in Canada and Alaska and in high mountains in Idaho and Western Montana during the summer for breeding seasons, but make their way south to the southeastern U.S. and to the western U.S  coastline during the winter.
  • Primarily eats seeds and insects, but in coastal areas in the San Juans can eat small crustaceans and tiny marine life along coastlines.
  • Can be found scratching under bushes and forest undergrowth, and also can be seen on beachy shorelines.
  • Rarely makes its brushy, thick, grassy nests in vegetation above 8 feet above the ground.


American Wigeon

american_wigeon_1.jpgAmerican Wigeon- Male

american_wigeon_2.jpgAmerican Wigeon- Female

  • Found in flocks and is a dabbling bird.
  • Is found in much of Canada and Alaska and the high mountains of Idaho and Montana in the summer. During winter, can congregate to the western coastlines and the southern half of the U.S. into Mexico, and during this time, begin to attract mates before heading off to breeding grounds for the summer.
  • Eats mostly plant material like algae, eelgrass, and pondweed, though can also eat snails and small insects.
  • Nests can be up to ½ mile inland from water and are on the ground in tall grasses.


Harlequin Duck

harlequin_duck_1.jpgHarlequin Duck- Male

harlequin_duck_2.jpgHarlequin Duck- Female

  • Primarily found in southern Alaska and western Canada during the summer breeding months. Migrates from inland to coastal waters along those regions, and down the western coastline of the U.S..
  • Is a dabbling duck, but also can dive and pry off mollusks and crustaceans. Also eats small fish, insects, and marine worms.
  • Breeding pairs form during the winter and spring months.
  • Nests are on the ground in dense vegetation and among rocks and undergrowth.


Northern Harrier



  • Can be seen in the San Juan Islands periodically during the summer, but becomes much more of a common sight during the winter months. Ranges in Canada to Alaska during the summer, then spends fall-spring along the western U.S coastline and southern U.S. into Mexico. Year-round can be spotted in the middle of the U.S. extending to Idaho and Montana and the majority of Washington and Oregon.
  • Flies low over fields or grassy meadows hunting for rodents and small birds, and sometimes insects or small rabbits are also on the menu.
  • Nesting can occur in colonies. Nests are on the ground built of sticks and grass, with females being the primary builders.
  • Males may have more than one mate, and they also tend to fly faster and lower to the ground than females.


Black Turnstone



  • Found along the western coastline of Alaska during the summer, but migrates south to the western coastlines of the U.S. and southern Alaska.
  • Enjoys eating mollusks, barnacles, limpets, and insects. During breeding season, may also eat some seeds and berries and more insects.
  • May literally turn over stones, seaweed, and shells on beaches to find food.
  • Often return to same nesting sites with same mate each year. Nests are shallow depressions along waterlines in grasses.


Just around the corner, we will begin seeing these guys (and more!) on the regular. Are you a bird nerd? Charter a vessel for some birding, or simply come out and join us on a Whale Watch and Wildlife Tour and let your naturalists know you are psyched about birds! We would love to share this area and these cool animals with you!

Kelsey, Naturalist