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Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Pacific Region
Wildlife

Visiting the Refuges along the Oregon Coast is rewarding year-round, because each season brings different wildlife viewing opportunities.

Photo of a sea lion on the rocksPhoto of a pigeon guillemot in flight.Photo of two deer, a doe and fawn, at the shoreline. Photo of several common murres on a steep rock face.
Photo credits: USFWS

Wildlife Viewing Highlights
Download a Watchable Wildlife Map for the Oregon Coast

Seabirds


A seabird is a bird that spends most of its life in the open ocean. Seabirds are highly specialized and adapted to life in the sea. Most have thick, waterproof feathers to keep them warm and a special gland near their eyes helps them remove salt from their food and the water. A seabird's beak, as with all birds, is adapted to the type of food it eats. Their sharp, pointed beaks catch and hold slippery fish and strong, pointed wings help certain seabirds "fly" underwater when pursuing their prey. Other seabirds, like albatross, have longer wings that allow them to fly far out to sea. Webbed feet, common to all seabirds, help them chase their prey. Most seabirds rest and sleep on the waves, while others roost on land for a few hours a day. All seabirds must return to land to lay eggs and raise their young. At the start of summer, seabirds will gather on offshore islands and rock outcroppings to form a crowded colony where they will breed and nest. Their diet consists mostly of small fish, squid, shellfish, and crustaceans such as krill and crabs.

The recently published Catalog of Oregon Seabird Colonies provides current and historical locations and population estimates for all of Oregon's breeding seabird colonies.


common murreCommon Murre (Uria aalge) - Common Murres are found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. In the Pacific they range from western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to central California. Common Murres are colonial nesters (they nest in large groups) and nest on rocky islands and cliff ledges in colonies of tens or hundreds of thousands of birds. They do not breed until four or five years of age. In Oregon, they begin laying in late April. No nest is built, instead a single egg is laid on bare rock and held on the tops of their feet during incubation. Incubation lasts 28 - 35 days and is done by both sexes. After the chick hatches the adult female flies north to molt while the male leads unfledged young on a swimming migration north to the protected waters of Washington and British Columbia. Young birds are able to fly approximately forty-two days after hatching. Common Murres are capable of diving more than 180 meters (or approximately 600 feet) deep and can "fly" underwater. They feed on schooling fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Their longevity record is 26 years. The largest colony complex in Oregon is Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. Others locations during breeding season are Coquille Point, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Cape Meares, and Cascade Head.

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brandt's cormorantBrandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) - Brandt's Cormorants are found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja. Their habitat being marine and estuarine, they nest colonially on offshore rocks and are the most common of the cormorants on the Oregon coast in the summer. They begin laying eggs in late March or early April. A nest is constructed of seaweed, algae, grasses and mosses. Four eggs are laid, sometimes up to six. Incubation lasts about 30 days and is done by both sexes. They feed the altricial young by regurgitation. They hunt for schooling fish in the upper water column. Like all cormorants, their feathers are not waterproof which decreases their buoyancy making it easier for them to catch their prey. Their longevity record is 17 years. Brandt's Cormorants can be seen from April to August at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area , Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint, Coquille Point. They can also be found in estuaries and near shore waters.

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double crested cormorantDouble-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) - Double-crested Cormorants are common on the coasts of North America. They are found in the Pacific from the Aleutian Islands to Mexico. The Double-crested Cormorant is the most abundant species of cormorant found in Oregon. They are colonial nesters on offshore rocks, cliff ledges, trees, and islands. The limbs of the trees used for nesting eventually decay and die from accumulations of guano. Nests are built mainly from sticks and are reused year after year. Laying begins in mid-March, consisting of three to four eggs. Incubation lasts 25 - 29 days and is done by both sexes. Altricial young fledge at five to six weeks. Double-crested Cormorants feed on bottom dwelling fish away from shore and the young is fed by regurgitation. In order to make deep underwater dives, cormorants have the ability to wet the outer layer of their feathers thus reducing buoyancy allowing them to pursue prey further down in the water column. To dry their feathers they perch and spread their wings to the sun as shown in the photo. Record of longevity is 18 years.

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pelagic cormorantPelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) - Pelagic Cormorants are found along the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Islands south to Baja Mexico. They are common year-round along the entire Oregon coast. Pelagic cormorants are strictly marine birds, hence the name pelagic meaning "living in open seas or oceans." They are colonial nesters, using rocky cliffs and ledges to nest. Breeding begins at two to three years of age. Nests are made of seaweed, plant debris, and guano. Laying begins in late March, with a clutch of three to five eggs. Incubation is 26 - 28 days by both sexes. The young is fed by regurgitation. They are foot-propelled divers and their diet consists of bottom fish like rockfish and sole which they capture near shore. Longevity record is 18 years. In Oregon, they can be found nesting on the Yaquina and Alsea Bay bridges. The colony at Cape Foulweather is one of the largest on the Pacific coast. During breeding season, nests are visible at Coquille Point, Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, and Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.

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pigeon guillemotPigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) - In the Pacific, Pigeon Guillemots breed from northern Alaska to southern California. They can be seen flying low over the water along rocky coastlines or estuaries. Their habitat consists of marine and estuarine waters though they prefer sheltered waters rather than exposed coastlines. Pigeon Guillemots nest on talus slopes, human made structures, rock crevices, or burrows in soil, mostly in loose colonies of less than forty birds. Guillemots can fly underwater and use their feet as rudders to catch their prey. Unlike most other alcids which lay only one egg, they lay two. Laying begins in May. Incubation lasts 28 - 30 days by both sexes. The young fledge and become independent in thirty to forty days. They feed on near shore fish and feed their young by carrying a single fish (e.g., grinnell, bullhead, sculpin) back to the nest. Pigeon Guillemots winter at sea, sometimes moving north during the winter. Guillemots are gregarious seabirds and are very vocal at their colonies. The longevity record is 12 years. Good viewing locations are Coquille Point, Seal Rock, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach.

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tufted puffinTufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) - The Tufted Puffin is found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to southern California. They nest along the entire Oregon coast on coastal rocks where soil topped islands exist. Two thirds of the birds in Oregon nest at Three Arch Rocks NWR. Tufted Puffins have the most extensive latitudinal distribution of all the alcids ranging from Japan, through the Aleutian Islands south to Oregon, and southern California. They are colonial nesters although they will nest singly. Tufted Puffins need enough of a slope to give them enough lift to take off into the air from the rock or nest site location. Although they are not the most graceful birds in the air they make up for it under the water where they can truly fly. Their nests are burrows in the soil that can be up to six feet long. The nest itself is at the end of the burrow, usually lined with dry grasses and feathers. In April, laying begins with a clutch of a single egg. Incubation is 44 days by both sexes. Young will fledge at forty-nine days but can leave the burrow before that time. Anchovies, smelt, sand lance, and herring make up most of their diet. The young are fed small fish that are carried in the adults beaks three or four at a time. The Tufted Puffin molts the top layer its colorful beak every summer after chicks have fledged marking the end of the breeding season. Tufted Puffins winter at sea and are rarely seen from land during that time. The Tufted Puffin's longevity record is six years. A good location for viewing these birds is Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach.

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Rhinoceros Auklet Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) - Rhinoceros Auklets are found breeding from Alaska to southern California. These are one of the rarer breeding alcids in Oregon but when present they are distinctly different in appearance from other alcids. During the breeding season these seabirds grow a vertical horn-like structure at the base of the upper mandible. In non-breeding plumage the horn is significantly reduced in size. In Oregon, they nest in small numbers on offshore islands. Like the Tufted Puffin, they build nests in burrows that can be up to twenty feet long that they will use repeatedly. Laying begins in late April and the clutch consists of a single egg with an incubation period of 39 - 52 days shared by both sexes. Closely related to the puffin, the Rhinoceros Auklet also feeds on sand lance, herring, anchovies, and smelt. They are usually nocturnal at the colony to avoid predation by gulls. Chicks are fed twice a night, once by each parent. These seabirds winter at sea, usually south of breeding areas. The longevity record for the Rhinoceros Auklet is 8 years. They can be seen breeding in the Sea Lion Caves south of Cape Perpetua.

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Cassin's AukletCassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) - Cassin's Auklets breed from Alaska to Baja Mexico, but 76% breed in British Columbia. In Oregon, there are less than a dozen sites and fewer than 1,000 birds. Like the Rhinoceros Auklet and Tufted Puffin, they dig burrows for their nests, typically two to six feet long. They will also use natural cavities such as caves and crevices. Nest cavities can be unlined or lined with plant material. The nest site is used repeatedly by the same pair. They begin laying in late April on soil covered offshore rocks. Cassin's Auklets visit the colony only at night to escape the danger of predators. One egg is laid with an incubation period of 39 days shared by both sexes. Young are fed at night by regurgitation. Diet consists of euphausids and other crustaceans. At forty to fifty days the independent young leaves the burrow. Cassin's Auklet is the only known Northern Hemisphere seabird that can raise two broods in a season. They spend the winter at open sea and are the most common alcid seen at sea in Oregon. The longevity record for the Cassin's Auklet is 16 years. Due to the small numbers of these birds in Oregon and their nocturnal habits, Cassin's Auklets are difficult to see at breeding sites.

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Marbled MurreletMarbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) - Marbled Murrelets can be found along the west coast year-round, except in parts of British Columbia and Alaska. Unique among alcids, Marbled Murrelets are solitary nesters in an unusual habitat being coastal old growth coniferous forest. The nests can be in trees up to 250 feet high in a forest up to thirty miles inland. In northern Alaska, they are ground nesters. Nests are constructed from existing moss on a flat area of a branch. Egg laying begins in April and continues through June. Incubation period for their clutch of one egg is 27 - 30 days shared by both sexes. They feed primarily on sand lance, sardine, anchovy, smelt, herring, and euphausids. The young is fed a single fish at a time. Young flies to sea alone at thirty to forty days after it hatches. It was not until 1974 that the first Marbled Murrelet nest was discovered and as of the late 1980's, only ten nests had ever been seen worldwide. Longevity records are not available. At sea, Marbled Murrelets can be found during breeding season at Boiler Bay in Depoe Bay, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.

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western gullWestern Gull (Larus occidentalis) - Western Gulls can be found from British Columbia to Baja Mexico. Their population is the smallest of any North American gull but the most abundant on the Oregon coast. They are present in Oregon year-round and breed along the entire coast. The Western Gull breeds primarily on islands and offshore rocks, often in sheltered areas but will use human-made structures and mainland cliffs. Nest material is dead grasses and other plant matter. Early May marks the beginning of egg laying. Clutches have two to three eggs and incubation is 24 - 29 days done by both sexes. Young fledge at six to seven weeks. Western Gulls are one of the most opportunistic feeders and aggressive scavengers. They will often prey on the young of other nesting seabirds. Their longevity record is 28 years.

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Caspian TernCaspian Tern (Sterna caspia) - The breeding distribution of the Caspian Tern is extensive including the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coast, Great Lakes, and Great Basin region. The Caspian Tern can be found in marine, brackish, and freshwater habitats. They are colonial nesters, nesting on beaches or sandy areas on islands. Mid-April is when egg laying begins. Clutches of two to three eggs are laid on bare sand. Incubation by both sexes is 26 - 28 days. Young is fed a single fish and will fledge at 25 - 30 days. Parents may continue to feed the young several months after fledging. Caspian Terns are almost entirely piscivorous and feed on salmon, herring, perch, smelt and occasionally crayfish or insects. Their longevity record is 30 years. The largest Caspian tern colony in the world is on East Sand Island in the lower Columbia River.

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Leach's Storm PetrelLeach's Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) - Leach's Storm Petrels are preset in both the north Atlantic and north Pacific. Breeding grounds in the Pacific range from Japan to Alaska and the Aleutian chain south to Baja Mexico. Fifteen offshore rocks within Oregon Islands NWR are nesting sites. Sixty-eight percent of the breeding population reside on the islands off of Crook Point, a unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The smallest pelagic breeding seabird in Oregon, they will fly more than 100 miles offshore to feed. Leach's Storm Petrels winter in tropical waters within 20° of the equator. They are colonial burrow nesters and nest on islands with soft soil cover and are active only in darkness. Burrows are usually two to three feet long and shaped at an angle. One egg is laid in mid-late May with a 41 - 42 day incubation period. Chicks are fed a variety of foods including by-the-wind-sailors, shrimp, copepods, fish, and squid. They are fed by regurgitation, some of which has been converted to lipid rich oil. Young leave for sea at 63 - 70 days. Diet consists mostly of euphausids and zooplankton. These seabirds have a well-developed sense of smell allowing them to locate their burrows and food sources by smell. The longevity record for this species is 31 years. Leach's Storm Petrels are not often seen due to their distant offshore flying and nocturnal habits.

All migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which applies to all migratory birds and their parts including eggs, nests, and feathers and forbids the taking, killing, or possessing any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs.

 

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Site last updated March 8, 2011