Fall and winter are great times to watch waterfowl at many sites close enough to home to make for fun family holiday field trips.

Ducks, geese, swans and other waterbirds concentrate in many locations where big open water provides security and adjacent wetlands and fields provide food — both for resident birds and those making a migration stopover.

The sheer numbers of these bigger, colorful birds makes viewing relatively easy and they’re a great species group to learn identification skills. Whether on water or foraging in fields, waterfowl are relatively stationary, so you’ll have longer viewing time. Many species of ducks have exceptional markings that make identification easier, at least compared to songbirds. Just be sure to take along a good field identification book.

As with all wildlife, waterfowl watchers need to be respectful. Even from viewing platforms and boardwalks at parks and refuges, remember that you are in their home. If you get too close or make too much noise, you might disturb the birds and lose your opportunity to watch them if they flush.

To watch winter waterfowl wisely, follow these tips:

  • Use binoculars or scopes to keep your distance but still watch closely
  • Use telephoto lenses on cameras to get that great shot without getting too close
  • Move quietly, slowly, and in plain view
  • Use a viewing blind if one has been provided
  • Avoid use of calls, tape recordings of calls, or other devices
  • Divide large groups of people into small groups to be less disturbing
  • Don’t try to feed ducks and geese and don’t leave litter that they might mistake for food

Respect the property of others by viewing waterfowl on public land whenever possible. In Washington it is your responsibility to know if you are on private property. (Private property does not need to be posted or fenced.) If it is necessary to cross private property, always ask permission of the landowners before doing so.

Washington has a wealth of spots where fall and winter waterfowl viewing is exceptional. All seven of the Great Washington State Birding Trail maps — sponsored by Audubon Washington, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and others — include fall/winter waterfowl watching locations. Seattle Audubon has a wealth of birdwatching information regarding sites and seasonality of species occurrence at their BirdWeb site .

The following are among the best fall/winter waterfowl viewing spots, based in part on accessibility and proximity to population centers. They include some of WDFW’s mid-winter waterfowl inventory survey “priority one” areas with traditional high concentrations of waterfowl at this time of year, and some of the reserves that are closed to waterfowl hunting. Check links provided for directions, possible access fees, or other rules.

North Puget Sound Region:

South Puget Sound/Coastal Region:

Southwest Region:

Southcentral Region:

Northcentral Region:

Eastern Region:

Sprague Lake Unit of Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, west of town of Sprague on Lincoln-Adams county line

Logo courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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