Sandhill cranes in Othello, Wash. Courtesy of the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival
Farther out: Eastern Washington and along the coast
Spectacular migrations in Eastern Washington
Every year in late March, thousands of sandhill cranes — a species that stands more than 4 feet tall — visit the area around the agricultural town of Othello, Wash., from their breeding grounds in northern Canada. The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival is a family-friendly event, typically offering a variety of birding tours by school bus, craft activities, “meet the bird” docents, guest speakers and guided walks. For 2021, the festival will be virtual. Check the website for forthcoming info.
Bonus: The nearby Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is a stunning place to hike or picnic. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a marmot peeking over a cliff to get a look at you.
For another spectacular migration experience, head to Bowerman Basin in the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge on the Washington coast in late April and early May to see migrating shorebirds by the thousands (and the peregrine falcons that hunt them). Park at the Bowerman airfield (itself a novelty for kids) and walk along the boardwalk to the end viewing platform, where you’ll see plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers, red knots and dunlins converging on the mudflats.
The best time to see the shorebirds en masse is two hours before and after high tide, so time your visit just right. The undulating sight of so many birds in flight is unforgettable.
More ideas for getting started...
Classes, walks and bird counts: Many local nature organizations (such as local chapters of Audubon) hold free or affordable family bird walks — all of which are on hold now, but keep checking back for when outdoor group gatherings might be allowed. The Great Backyard Bird Count (Feb. 12–15, 2021) is also a fun way to get involved.
Ear training: Check out local radio station KNKX's archives of BirdNote, a two-minute program highlighting a bird likely to be seen at a particular time of year, along with its vocalizations and signature behavior.
Apps: Apps can also be a great way to engage kids in birding in real time. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has suggestions for apps when birding with kids.
Books: Pick up a copy of the invaluable "A Birder’s Guide to Washington," an exhaustive tour of every corner of the state for bird-watching, with driving directions and lists for what you are likely to see and where.
Editor's note: This article originally was originally published in 2017 was updated most recently in 2021.