A symphony of wings

For diversity and splendor, it’s hard to match the birds found along Oregon’s sea and shore.

For tens of thousands of seabirds nesting in the cliffs — plus a gut-wrenching drama of life and death fit for a nature program narrated by David Attenborough — look no further than Yaquina Head. This basalt headland and offshore rocks are home to at least 65,000 common murres, Brandt's and pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, western gulls and glaucous-winged gulls. In a symphony of cries, spray and clattering wings,  seabirds battle to raise their chicks and keep them safe from the clutches of hungry bald eagles and peregrine falcons. This is a pure unfolding of nature’s drama, visceral and gripping at the ocean’s door.

The interpretive center at Yaquina Head is also a favorite stopping point for birders scanning for the falcons, barn swallows and violet-green swallows nesting in the cliff ledges above the center. Watch right from the parking lot. Chances are there will be an interpreter around who can tell you more.

Look for birds along the edges of Yaquina Bay, including the jetty rocks at Southwest Jetty Way. The Mike Miller State Park Educational Trails in South Beach lead though wetlands that offer good bird viewing. The mile-long Yaquina Bay Estuary Trail, located off of Marine Science Drive, offers priming sightings of wetland birds along the mile-long walk which can also be combined with a visit to Hatfield Marine Science Center. 

The birds which call the coast home could fill a guidebook. Some notable ones you’ll see in just about any estuary are the great blue heron on the hunt, spindly egrets and common loons. Perched like slick, dark sentries on pilings, jetty rocks and shoreline trees are Brandt’s cormorants — brazen fisher-birds with an oily appearance and a startling throat of bright blue. 

Bald eagles nest in snags along the shore and ospreys can be seen hovering in a shimmer of wings, ready to dive on fish in the surf. 

See a dark bird with an outsized orange beak and startling pumpkin-colored eyes hopping around the rocks and tidepools? It’s probably the famed black oystercatcher, rare but year-round and a sight to behold. A brown denizen with white wing patches and red feet is probably a pigeon guillemot.

You may see the scurried takeoff of a tufted puffin or a serene line of brown pelicans cruising just above the sea surface.

You will see western gulls everywhere; the mature ones sporting pure white with sharp lines of black — the juveniles looking a little uncomfortable in rumpled, mottled suits of gray and brown. No trip to the ocean would be complete without the familiar voices of these highly successful residents.

These birds are a small sample of what is in store. You could spend a lifetime birdwatching on the Oregon coast. Come get started while the weather is nice!