Northern Harrier Male
A northern harrier scans the prairie for voles on the prairie at American Camp. The harriers usually have the prairie to themselves during the winter.

Rebecca Smith


With more than 200 species and a varied habitat, many birders consider San Juan Island to be one of the best birdwatching areas in the state.

One reason is that because the volume of water equaling that of the Amazon River flushes from the Strait of Georgia through Haro Strait, the Salish Sea is a rich environment for birds. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a major summer feeding area for rhinocerous auklets, tufted puffins, pigeon guillemots, and by summer’s end, common murres, Cassin’s auklets and the occasional forktailed storm petrel.

Some species reside in the park year around, some are seasonal residents and others pass through on seasonal migrations along the Pacific Flyway migration route, which passes through the San Juan Islands.

The Park’s two units vary in their habitat types. American Camp ranges from prairie, shrubby thickets and mixed coniferous/hardwood forest to open saltwater, sandy and rocky shoreline and brackish lagoons. English Camp habitat includes a large, protected bay, mudflats, grassy bald and rocky slopes, open woodland and oak savanna, and wet coniferous forest.

On American Camp’s rocky shorelines, listen for the piping calls of black oystercatchers, and look for surf scoters in protected bays and rafts of seabirds on the open water. Shorebird migration begins around July 1, when birds such as black-bellied plovers stop to feed in the prairie grasses. Fourth of July Beach and Jakle’s Lagoon are big wintering spots for ducks, including buffleheads and Harlequin ducks as well as common loons.


In the woodlands of both camps, you’ll find winter wrens, chestnut-backed chickadees and rufous hummingbirds. On the prairie, look for American goldfinches, great horned owls, and 18 varieties of raptors, from merlins to peregrine falcons to northern harriers. In spring you’ll see Savannah sparrows and vesper sparrows, and winter is a good time to see migrating seabirds.

Major Threats

Landbirds are an important indicator of the effects of local and regional changes in ecosystems, and studies show that many species have significant declining trends. Landbirds as well as neotropical breeding migrants that fly south for the winter (which include the rufous hummingbird, Pacific-slope flycatcher, violet-green swallow, and yellow warbler) are threatened by loss of habitat on the wintering and breeding grounds and along migration routes, domestic cat predation, brown-headed cowbird parasitism, environmental contaminants, and climate change.

In an effort to enhance native habitats for breeding birds and increase overall biodiversity, the park monitors breeding bird populations on a biennial cycle, and is working on prairie restoration, Garry oak restoration and ways to control European rabbits at American Camp.


"Birds of San Juan Island National Historical Park" checklist: What to see at American and English Camps according to season.

1935 publication, “Birds of the San Juan Islands”

"North Coast Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring: Report for the 2008 Field Season"

"Landbird Monitoring Protocol for National Parks"

The Birds of North America Online

BirdWeb: Learn About the Birds of Washington State

  • a yellow and black bird sits on a branch

    Bird Guide

    Check out this guide to San Juan Island birds created by local students

  • an orange seastar lies amidst coral in a marine environment

    Go Tidepooling

    Tidepools are special places where you can see what normally lies beneath the waves.

  • Gray sand beach with lots of large driftwood logs. A group of people are sitting on some of the logs

    Visit a Beach

    San Juan Island has several beaches for visitors to enjoy.

Last updated: November 14, 2022

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P.O. Box 429
Friday Harbor , WA 98250


360 378-2240

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