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Great Cannon Beach Puffin Watch on N. Oregon Coast in July: Spot the Baby Beasties

Published 6/19/24 at 8:05 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Do you love tufted puffins? Well, why wouldn't you. And yet sadly, they don't love you. They're trying to hide from us. (Photo courtesy Friends of Haystack Rock)

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Which makes The Great Cannon Beach Puffin Watch an ideal opportunity, a four-day event on the north Oregon coast that lets you in on the big secret: they help you see the sprightly-colored little guys. It's put together by Friends of Haystack Rock (FOHR), and it's part of a fireworks-free celebration that happens July 1 – 4, right in front of Haystack Rock where they're are nesting right now.

Tiffany Boothe of FOHR and the Seaside Aquarium said folks will be there from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. to help you see the puffins, with spotting scopes and binoculars available to zoom in on the birds – up close. You'll also get to learn a lot more about what's happening up there on the north coast landmark.

Haystack Rock is home to one of the few Tufted Puffin breeding colonies in Oregon – certainly the only one that's very visible.

In early April puffins show up at Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock. By this time, most of them have already found their lifelong partners and are returning to the same protected burrow they used the previous year to raise their young.

“The Tufted Puffins will spend about 16 weeks at the Rock,” said Boothe. “For the first couple weeks the puffins stake out their territory and clean up their burrow. Once their burrow is ready, the female puffin will lay a single, chicken-sized egg, which both the male and female incubate.”

Then, incubation usually lasts 41-54 days. Boothe said the colorful little creatures of the Oregon coast usually remain tucked inside their burrow, but newly hatched puffins appear at the rock beginning in late June through mid to late August.

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“Despite the fact that you may not be able to see the pufflings, activity around the rock is hectic and plentiful: it is fun to observe the parent puffins making multiple trips to their burrow with bills full of fish for their young,” Boothe said.

The fun is somewhat short-lived. About 38 to 59 days after hatching, the pufflings (now there's a cute word) begin to leave the burrows. This happens in the dark of night, careful to escape the hungry and watchful eyes of local eagles. There, however, they've left the safety of their childhood home on Haystack Rock and return to the ocean where they spend winter.

During this event you are likely to also see the myriad of other sea birds nesting and/or residing at Haystack Rock including common murres, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, and black oystercatchers.

“FOHR) promotes the preservation and protection of the intertidal life and birds that inhabit the Marine Garden and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge at Haystack Rock,” Boothe said. “We do this in cooperation with Haystack Rock Awareness Program, other partners, and the community.”

Tufted Puffins struggle with inadvertently ingesting ocean plastic, getting caught and drowning in gill-nets, and protecting their burrows from introduced mammalian predators such as foxes and rats. Since the mid-1990s, Tufted Puffin populations in Oregon and Washington have plummeted more than 95 percent.

The puffins showed up this year back on April 6, with much fanfare from Haystack Rock Awareness Program.

“We are puffin’ with joy to announce we've spotted the first tufted puffins of the season,” they said on April 6. “This morning, our Director and Education and Volunteer Coordinator hit the beach to try and spot the first arrivals. While none were seen lingering outside of their burrows, they did observe three tufted puffins mingling with a raft of common murres beyond the waves! Needless to say, we will be keeping our eyes glued to the Rock for the rest of the week.”

There are some other spots on the south Oregon coast where you can spot them, including Bandon's Face Rock, Coos Bay's Simpson's Reef and at times at Coquille Point, also at Bandon.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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