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As you may read in the King County Biodiversity Report, according to the Washington Ornithological Society, 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), which was 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.

Birds are Flighty Creatures

  • 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 over-winter in King County but migrate 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.
  • 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

When was the last time you considered the Boreal Forest? Ever? 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 will be shocked how many birds that may be seen in the King County area nest in the Boreal Forest.

South and Central America Migrants

Migratory birds are particularly vulnerable to trade and development activities, as they are potentially affected by the land use practices or other environmental 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.

Changing bird populations

The distribution and abundance of these species has shifted over the past 150 years as a result of many factors, the most significant of which has been the impacts of logging and subsequent development. The distribution and abundance will continue, including new arrivals and extirpations, in part as a result of natural processes, but in larger part, we believe, because of the effects of climate change.

Related local bird information

BirdWeb is Seattle Audubon's guide to the Birds of Washington. Each species has its own page with range maps and photographs. This is in invaluable resource for local bird information.

The BirdWeb website includes a directory to birding in the Ecoregions of Washington State. To learn more about ecoregions, be sure to check out our Ecoregions page.

Washington Birder is a web resource for birders throughout Washington state. Check out the King County bird checklist.

You can download Breeding Bird Atlas data for King County at the Sound to Sage Breeding Bird Atlas site.