The Columbia Hills are a vast and distinct landform spanning 65 kilometers along the Columbia River in southern Klickitat County, extending from the Klickitat River eastward to Rock Creek, and north from the Columbia River approximately 10 kilometers. The south slopes rise abruptly from the Columbia, in places gaining 500 meters of elevation in 1.5 kilometers. The IBA comprises about 25 small tributary drainages of the Columbia River; and 15 northward-flowing streams, mostly tributaries of Swale Creek, which forms part of the northern boundary. The IBA excludes the Dallesport airport and the developed areas around State Route 14. Agriculture is the dominant land use, along with some forestry.
The Columbia Hills IBA supports several assemblages of birds associated with rare habitat that includes Oregon white oak woodlands and riparian deciduous forest. Shrub-steppe, including native grassland, is the dominant habitat of the site, along with oak-pine woods, western juniper savannah, basalt cliffs, and fresh water wetlands. Hundreds of raptors of 13 or more species, including Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, have been recorded in winter. The area supports five Prairie Falcon aeries, at least three Golden Eagle aeries, Swainson's Hawk nests, nesting and wintering Lewis's Woodpeckers, Grasshopper, Brewer's and Harris's Sparrows, and Long-billed Curlew. Over 2,000 waterfowl have been recorded at Swale Creek wetlands in winter.