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Great Puffin Watch Takes Over N. Oregon Coast's Cannon Beach This Weekend

Published 06/29/21 at 5:25 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Great Puffin Watch Takes Over N. Oregon Coast's Cannon Beach This Weekend

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Get ready for the finest of feathered friends on the Oregon coast. (Photo courtesy Ram Pampish)

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The famed tufted puffin gets its own Fourth of July weekend celebration in Cannon Beach, where fireworks are not allowed because of the birds' nesting areas there. The Friends of Haystack Rock is putting on the Great Puffin Watch from July 1 through the 4th, an event similar to Whale Watch Week across the Oregon coast, but this time volunteers help you spot the beautiful black and orange birds.

People will get to use spotting scopes and binoculars from staff so you can see these magnificent birds up close. It will be held 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day.

Every year, a variety of seabird species use the unique habitat of Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock to nest and raise their young. Volunteers from Friends of Haystack Rock will be out there to also spread the word on how important this rock is to regional ecology.

“Not only will you see the infamous tufted puffin, but other species such as black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, harlequin ducks, and more,” said Tiffany Boothe of the Friends of Haystack Rock. “Have you ever seen a western gull chick? While most people are not too excited to see a western gull, their chicks are absolutely adorable.”

Brant's Commorants on Haystack, courtesy Friends of Haystack Rock

Cannon Beach's iconic rock structure is home to the largest tufted puffin breeding colony along the Oregon coast, and among the closest you can get to them on the shoreline. There are scattered spots along the south coast, but this is the most accessible and easiest to view.

They show up here in early April. By this time, most puffins have already found their partner for life – which is not only fascinating scientifically but absolutely heartwarming and adorable. The two then return to the same burrow where they raised their young last year. Tufted puffins spend about 16 weeks at the rock. 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. Incubation usually lasts 41-54 days.

“Though usually tucked back inside the burrow, newly hatched puffins appear at the ‘Rock' beginning in late June through mid to late August,” Boothe said. “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.”

Finally, some 38 to 59 days after hatching the pufflings will leave their burrows. They do so under the protection of darkness to escape the ever-watchful, hungry eyes of bald eagles, Boothe said. At this time, every single puffling leaves the safety of the rock and returns to the open ocean where they will spend the winter.

The tufted puffin population here is not a steady one: their numbers in Oregon and along the Washington coast have plummeted more than 95 percent since the 1990s. Mankind is no help. Boothe said they struggle with inadvertently ingesting ocean plastic, getting caught and drowning in gill-nets, as well as protecting their burrows from introduced mammalian predators such as foxes and rats.

Boothe said Friends of Haystack Rock promotes the preservation and protection of the intertidal life and birds that inhabit the marine gardens of the region and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge at Haystack Rock.

“We do this in cooperation with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program and other partners,” she said.

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Puffin photos above courtesy Friends of Haystack Rock

Photo courtesy Ram Pampish

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