Climbing Closures to protect nesting of Smith Rock State Park raptors

Climbing Closures to protect nesting of Smith Rock State Park raptors
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Raptors of Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park is home to many raptors; Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Osprey, and Owls. Feb-March is the time mating pairs may be looking for a nesting site and the cliffs and canyons of Smith Rock offers an ideal setting. In order to respect the homes of these birds and give them space to hatch and raise their young, climbers need to be aware of closures on certain rock formations through out the year due to nesting. The closures are usually posted on the Smith Rock State Park website,, and Chockstone Climbing Guides on Facebook. The closures typically start in February while the state park rangers watch for nesting birds and courtship behavior. The closures last until the babies have fledged the nest.  The closures often last til early to mid July, with hopefully the good news of chicks having fledged the nest. 

Typical closures February - July - only in certain parts of the park.

The Monument Area, First Kiss area, and Smith Rock group are closed for climbing now. Hikers, note that The Canyon Trail near the Bald Eagle nest is now limited to groups of four or less, and noise needs to be kept to a minimum to respect the species.

Bald Eagles

The bald eagle’s nest at Smith Rock State Park is a large platform of sticks built in large, isolated Ponderosa Pine visible from the cliffs edge of the bivouac campground.  Starting in February the Canyon Trail below the Bald Eagle nest is restricted to travel in groups of 4 or less, and noise needs to be kept to a minimum.  Eagles mate for life and use the same nest for many years. Parts of the campground are closed during nesting to give the Bald Eagles a little space.  You can go and take a look from a distance with binoculars.  This nest has been an active and successful nest for many years.  In  2022 two eaglets hatched but did not live to fledge the nest.  It is thought that they were eaten by other predatory birds.  The nests are usually about 5 feet wide, but older nests can be twice the size. Typically two or three eggs are laid and take slightly longer than a month to hatch. Both parents share in the incubation and feeding of the young. The immature birds are brown with whitish tail and wing linings, but the pure white head and tail does not appear until the eagles are four to five years old.  

Bald eagles were declared the United States national bird in 1782, when they numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  Over the next 200 years their numbers steadily declined due to hunting and being poisoned by a pesticide DDT.   In the 1960s, the number of bald eagles in the United States had dropped to fewer than 450 nesting pairs.  In 1972 the use of DDT was banned in the United States, and in 1978 the U.S. government declared the bald eagle an endangered species in all but a few of the northernmost states. Since then the number of  bald eagle has been on the rise.  In 1995 they were reclassified from endangered to threatened as the number went to an estimated 4,500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. In 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the U.S. list of endangered and threatened species.  We are grateful to watch the return on the Bald Eagle pair to Smith Rock State Park.

Golden Eagles

The Golden Eagles nests of Smith Rock are found high on pinnacles of the Monument area.  The Monument Area was to closed to climbing this year, January 18th 2023. Their nests are made of sticks and can be up to 20 ft. high.  Golden eagles also return to their same nests annually.  From the area called the North Point of Smith Rock State Park, you can look across to the rock formations across the river and eye the nests that create dark spots on the rock.

Golden eagles main diet is small rodents but they do eat fish and lizards as well.  They also are monogamous and remain with their mate for several years, possibly life.  Both parents incubate their eggs for 40 to 45 days. Typically, one or two young survive to fledge in about three months.  It is prohibited to fly drones in Smith Rock State Park any where during the nesting season.   Sadly one year, eaglets scared by a drone jumped out of the nest before they were strong enough to fly and died.  The climbing area affected by Golden Eagle nests is the Monument area, typically the months of February until early July.  Outside of the nesting season it is possible to fly drones with a permit and restrictions from the state park.  Contact a Smith Rock State Park ranger for a permit.


Peregrine and Prairie Falcons are two more birds of prey that have climbing closures to protect their nesting times. The Smith Rock Towers area is closed to climbing and high-lines starting in March for peregrine falcon nesting.  The First Kiss area north of Monkey Face is also closed typically in March for prairie falcon nesting through early to mid July. The same areas have been closed for falcons for the past 3 years.

A fun fact about the Peregrine Falcon is its diving speed. During flight, it can reach more than 186 miles per hour, making it not only the world's fastest bird but also the world's fastest animal. Peregrine’s diet is other birds, mainly pigeons, ducks, shorebirds, loons, geese, and songbirds, depending on the location of the bird. Prairie falcons feed mainly on ground squirrels, but their diet expands to rats and rabbits when available. While Peregrines dive bomb their prey, Prairie Falcons often hunt from low altitudes, flapping powerfully across open areas and surprising prey by hugging the ground contours to stay out of view.


Of course there are owls as well at Smith Rock State Park. If you are in the bivy area in the evening or climbing till dusk and walking out of the canyon as it gets dark, you may spot or hear an owl. There are currently at least five species of owls that can be spotted at Smith Rock State Park, including the Great Horned Owl. These owls are most prominent in the winter, with their unique hooting calls able to be heard clearly late on winter nights.

Great Horned Owls are beautiful birds, with gray-brown feathers and yellow eyes, but they are also ferocious predators, hunting their prey mostly at night. They prey on other raptors as well as mice and other rodents. To get their prey, Great Horned Owls perch on tree branches and then swiftly swipe down to catch the animals.


Osprey are just another one of the many raptors that can be found at Smith Rock State Park. The Osprey is a large, fish-eating raptor. Ospreys have long legs with large feet and reversible outer toes accustomed to catching fish straight from the river. Osprey are regarded for their patience as birds of prey who have the unique ability to snatch their prey out of the water. Osprey mainly eat fish that vary by species depending on the region; however, when fish are sparce, Osprey may resort to eating small mammals or other birds.

Smith Rock's Unique Beauty

The numbers of raptors you can see at Smith Rock State Park is just another reason it is such a special place. Smith Rock is home to one of the most diverse raptor populations of any state park, but it's also home to other animals, including over 170 bird species. Some of the most notable fauna excluding raptors include deer, lizards, Canada geese, mountain cottontails, and more.

When climbing or hiking at Smith Rock State Park, be sure to respect the closures and keep noise to a minimum to prevent disturbance of the important raptor species that inhabit the park. If you spot a raptor or any other animal species, you may watch them from a distance in admiration, but make sure you respect these vital species and do not interfere with them.

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