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Grays Harbor Estuary

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States, Washington

Relative Location:

On the Pacific coast in Grays Harbor County.


46.94N,  124.06W



Basis for Designation:

More than 500,000 shorebirds annually during spring and fall migration.


24,346 hectares (60,160 acres)


March 1995

Site Owner/Steward:

Washington State Departments of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources, and Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; The Nature Conservancy; Army Corp of Engineers; and a private corporation: Weyehauser 

Site Partners:


Human Population within 100 km:




Glynnis L. Nakai
Refuge Manager
Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

Signage at Grays Harbor Estuary
Important Shorebird Sites in the state of Washington
Photo by Brad Winn

Grays Harbor Esturary is a relatively undisturbed estuary which lies at the mouth of the Chehalis River and is the second largest watershed in the state of Washington. This site includes subtidal (open water), intertidal (mudflat), rocky shore (harbor mouth), intertidal emergent (salt marsh), intertidal emergent (scrub/shrub), palustrine forested (forested wetland/willow), palustrine emergent (common reed), and palustrine emergent spoil (fill) habitats.

The site is a major staging area for migrating shorebirds on the Pacific Flyway, visited by over 500,000 shorebirds during spring and fall. As many as 24 species use Grays Harbor, with Western Sandpiper and Dunlin most abundant. Black-bellied Plover, Red Knot, Least Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover are also common.

Grays Harbor lies between two other WHSRN sites in Washington State, Greater Skagit and Stillaguamish Delta to the north and Columbia River Estuary to the south at the Oregon/Washington border.  

Sandpiper Trail brings visitors along a boardwalk to the estuary.
Photo by Brad Winn



Grays Harbor NWR

Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival

Grays Harbor Audubon Society

Ecology & Conservation

Counts from various sources report that an estimated 300,000+ shorebirds were observed during an aerial survey of Grays Harbor on April 27, 1993. Ground counts of Bowerman Basin on April 26 and 27, 1993, indicated about 150,000 and 125,000 shorebirds respectively.

The species known to use this site include:

Black-bellied Plover
Black Turnstone 
Common Snipe
Greater Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Lesser Golden Plover
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Dowitcher 
Marbled Godwit
Red Knot
Red-necked Phalarope
Rock Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Plover 
Short-billed Dowitcher
Snowy Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper

Grays Harbor is also used by other species of birds such as the Peregrine Falcon, Brown Pelican, gulls, terns, Common Loon, Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorant.

Current threats:

Threats to the area include those associated with expanding economic base and a growing population. Invasive introduced vegetation is also a current threat to the native plant community. For example, Giant Reed (Phragmites Communis) and Spartina are two of these invasive species. 

Special Information

Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival is held on the last weekend of April, during the peak of spring migration. It includes field trips and lectures, and is coordinated by the Grays Harbor Audubon Society.


Glynnis L. Nakai
Refuge Manager
Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex
100 Brown Farm Road
Olympia, WA 98516


Grays Harbor Audubon Society


Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival

Additional Resources

Herman S.G. and J.B. Bulger, 1981. The distribution and Abundance of Shorebirds During the 1981 Spring Migration at Grays Harbor, Washington. U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle, WA. Contract No DACW 67-81-M-0936 64pp.

Washington State Coastal Zone Management Program Amendment No. 3: Approval and Adoption of the Grays Harbor Estuary Management Plan, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Washington state Department of Ecology, Olympia, WA 105 pp.+ appendices

Management and Development Plan Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, Hoquiam, Washington, February 1990, prepared by Grays Harbor Refuge Planning Team, USFWS. 54 pp. + appendices.

Paulson, D.R., 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. 406 pp.