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Birds in King County

Birds in King County

About 221 breeding and non-breeding bird species are common, uncommon, or usually seen on an annual basis in King County. The breeding bird atlas for King County (called Sound to Sage), completed between 1987 and 2000, reports that 164 bird species are confirmed (135), probable (15), or possible (14) breeders in the county. To print a checklist of birds in King County, visit the Washington Birder page, scroll to the bottom, and choose King County on the map.

Many of our Birds are Migratory

  • Of the 164 species of birds breeding in the county, 50 are here only during the spring and summer breeding months, and spend winters south of us. Many of these birds are our South and Central America Migrants.
  • Approximately 50 additional species spend winter in King County but migrate north out of the county for the breeding season. Many of these birds are Boreal Migrants.
  • Some of the species that are here year-round may migrate locally, depending on their life histories. For example, different individuals of the same species may move in and out of the county. So the chickadees you see nesting in your back yard in summer may not be the same ones that you see eating your sunflower seeds in winter. Our American Robins are another species that migrate locally.
  • In addition to 221 species expected to be seen annually in the county, another 36 are present and rare (5+ records), and 117 species have been observed in the county fewer than 5 times on record.

Boreal Migrants

Many people don't realize how important the Boreal Forest is to our local animals. Believe it or not, the biodiversity of King County is directly impacted by the Boreal Forest, which is a highly endangered ecosystem. The Boreal Songbird Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to outreach and education about the importance of the Boreal Forest region to North America's birds. You may be shocked how many birds that may be seen in the King County area nest in the Boreal Forest. For example, 25 percent of birds in the Seattle area that winter here or migrate through breed exclusively or largely in the Boreal Forest.

South and Central America Migrants

Migratory birds are affected by the land use practices and other habitat disruptions occurring anywhere along their flight paths. As an example, the Pacific Flyway stretches from wintering grounds in South and Central America to nesting grounds in northwestern North America.

Many notable Washington State songbirds spend their winters in the tropics, including:

  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Western Wood Pewee
  • Townsend's Warbler
  • Hammond's Flycatcher
  • American Redstart
  • Cassin's Vireo
  • MacGillvray's Warbler
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Wilson's Warbler
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Western Tanager
  • Swainson's Thrush
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Lincoln's Sparrow
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Bullock's Oriole

Other migratory birds important to Washington State include shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors. All of these species may be impacted by trade and development activities. Visit the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which is dedicated to fostering greater understanding, appreciation, and protection of the grand phenomenon of bird migration.

Related local bird information