What’s Happening This Week During Spring Migration: May 20

By Dan van den Broek, Educator & Naturalist-in-Residence

As we spend more time at home and in our yards, gardens, local parks, neighborhoods, and local green spaces, we want to highlight seasonal bird activity you can expect to see during spring migration. Join us each week as we show which birds to look out for in your neighborhood and highlight other nature events throughout the year. 

Keep on watching for late migrants coming through. This week, we are highlighting the last of the migrants to arrive in our area. Some unusual birds can appear late into migration season, like the two Lark Sparrows that showed up near the Portland Airport on May 18.  Next week, we will shift our focus to breeding birds in our area.

Species to Watch for This Week

Willow Flycatcher

The Willow Flycatcher is found at the edge of riparian thickets, open scrubland and early successional forest. A loud “Fitz-bew”, repeated after long pauses, is the familiar song of this Empidonax species. The first Willow Flycatchers arriving from southern Mexico and Central America are seen mid-May. The majority arrive over the last two weeks of May, and a few will continue into early June. 

Willow Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher, photo by Scott Carpenter

Common Nighthawk

This once common bird in our area is now a rare migrant. Not seen or heard until the first week of June, the Common Nighthawk is the last to arrive in the region. Listen for their ‘peent” call at dusk, as they may fly over any neighborhood over the first couple weeks of June. Historically, the Common Nighthawk was a breeder in the Willamette Valley, sometimes making nests on the gravel roofs of high-rise buildings. They also formerly nested on gravel bars in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. They can now be found nesting in the Coast Range, Cascade Mountains and throughout Eastern Oregon.

Common Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk, photo by Scott Carpenter

Red-eyed Vireo

A persistent song heard from dawn to dusk, drifting from the top of the highest cottonwood tree, is often your only indication that the Red-eyed Vireo has returned. The Red-eyed Vireo is usually detected at a few local Portland area greenspaces over the first week of June. The Red-eyed Vireos that breed in the Pacific Northwest depart from northwestern South America, then probably fly up through the Plains States before taking a westward turn across the Rockies. Portland-area birds nest about a month later than those east of the Rockies, which supports the idea of westward movement through the mountains.

Red-eyed Vireo, photo by Steve Guttman