Seasons of Wildlife

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Estuaries feature labyrinthine tidal creeks winding through shallow marshes, prairies of eelgrass growing on broad mud flats, and a tremendous variety of cover types providing protection and critical habitat for numerous species, whether they're shorebirds and ducks, salmon and salamanders, or clams and shrimp and worms burrowed in the mud. No matter the season, estuaries are teeming with lifeboth above and below the surface.

  • Spring

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    Flocks of migrating birds and waterfowl swell the ranks of resident and overwintering populations. Some stop only briefly on the estuary to feed and rest, soon resuming their migration north to Arctic breeding areas. A few linger longer before heading farther north, while others remain to join resident populations that will court and build nests in the marshes, meadows, and forests on the fringes of the estuary. Most will be rearing fledglings by season's end.

    Some estuaries are host to spring migrations of anadromous fishes, moving through on their way to freshwater spawning grounds. Spring Chinook Salmon usually arrive in May, and American Shad from late April through May. 

    Look also for early-blooming plants brightening the wetlands, including skunk cabbage and Siberian spring beauty, at left.

  • Summer

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    On the marshes and backwaters of the estuaries, Mallard, Wood Duck, and merganser parents trail trains of fuzzy ducklings behind them. Ospreys hover and dive on their day-long fishing forays, nabbing meals for their hungry and growing broods.

    Returning Brown Pelicans, so graceful on the wing, make crashing spectacles of themselves when they spot forage fish swimming below. They tuck their wings, stretch their necks, and simply let gravity take its course. They're a summer delight, and their numbers are increasing along Oregon's coastal bays and estuariesa hopeful sign for a species nearly wiped out in the 1970s by DDT poisoning.

  • Fall

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    Thousands of shorebirds migrate along the Oregon coast in the fall, using estuaries as stopover habitat to feed and rest. Shorebird numbers peak from August through September as they fly south to wintering areas. Of waterfowl, tiny Green-winged Teal are often the first to show up, usually in September, in their sporadic, darting-and-diving flocks. The first bad weather up north drives other dabblers downthe Mallards, Pintails and Gadwalls. After Thanksgiving, diving ducks pour in with every storm front.

    Raptors such as Sharp-shinned Hawks monitor the estuary's margins, alert to unsuspecting prey birds. Bandon Marsh is an excellent place to watch migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

  • Winter

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    Sea ducks, waterfowl and shorebirds such as the Wilson's Snipe at left are abundant during the winter. Common species include Surf, White-winged and Black Scoters, Buffleheads, Common and Pacific Loons; and Western, Horned and Red-Necked Grebes. Estuaries host wintering ducks, geese, and a variety of raptors. Beyond the Coquille River delta westward, Gray Whales can be seen migrating south along the coast in December and January on their journey to calving grounds in the coastal lagoons of Baja Mexico.