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Tufted Puffin Season Begins on N. Oregon Coast: First Pair Seen Already

Published 04/09/22 at 12:12 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Tufted Puffin Season Begins on N. Oregon Coast: First Pair Seen Already

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – The first of the tufted puffins have been spotted along the north Oregon coast at Cannon Beach's iconic Haystack Rock. This place is more than a visual icon to these adorable creatures, however: it's where they settle down every spring. (Photos courtesy Friends of Haystack Rock / Seaside Aquarium).

Look for an event celebrating their return on April 30 and May 1.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium and the Friends of Haystack Rock said they were already seen in March, and now they are spending more and more time on the rock itself.

“The best time to view puffins is first thing in the morning,” Boothe said. “This is when they are most active.”

On the south coast, South Coast Tours, LLC reported seeing two puffins on a boat trip as well.

Boothe said that every April a colony of them settles into the grassy areas of the top of the rock, and by this time they've already found a partner for life.

“This is not only fascinating scientifically but absolutely heartwarming and adorable,” Boothe said. “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.”

Every year, there's actually a variety of species that set up their homes atop the famous Oregon coast rock structure. They, too, nest and raise their young here.

Courtesy Seaside Aquarium

“Not only will you see the infamous tufted puffin, but other species such as black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, harlequin ducks, and more,” Boothe said. “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.”

There are parts of the southern Oregon coast that have tufted puffin colonies as well, although none are usually this accessible or famous. It's one reason, however, that drones are prohibited near here and fireworks are not allowed in Cannon Beach at all. The rock is a nationally-recognized protected area.

Haystack Rock is also the largest breeding colony of puffins on the Oregon coast. Yet it's not a steady one: their numbers in Oregon and along the Washington coast have plummeted more than 95 percent since the 1990s. Since 1980, the number of tufted puffins at Haystack Rock has dropped from 600 to just 96.

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.

Your season for watching these mesmerizing creatures is just getting started, lasting throughout the summer.

“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.”

Then, around 40 to 50 days after hatching the pufflins leave their burrows, but they'll do this under cover of night. That way, they 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.

Cannon Beach Puffin Event

The Haystack Rock Awareness Program in welcoming the tufted puffins back to their summer nesting home during the weekend of April 30th. The event is free, fun and engaging for learners of all ages. It features spotting scopes, tidepool tours, and a wide variety of interpretive stations, educational games, a labyrinth, art projects, and more.

The event also spotlights Cannon Beach’s iconic tufted puffin as a species in peril. Over the weekend there will be opportunities to learn more about ongoing efforts towards Tufted Puffin conservation. The schedule is as follows:

Saturday, April 30. 8 am – 11 am. Open House: puffin labyrinth walkthrough (weather dependent), bird table, bird scopes, children’s art table, research table

9:30 am: How to Spot a Puffin (also available on Facebook/Instagram live)

10 am: Puffin Predator Game (also viewable on FB/IG live)

10:30am: Puffin Trivia Game (also viewable on FB/IG live)

Sunday, May 1st

8 am – 12 pm: Open House: puffin labyrinth walkthrough (weather dependent), bird table, bird scopes, children’s art table, research table

10 am: Puffin Love and All About Pufflings (also on FB/IG live)

11am: Puffin Predator Game (also viewable on FB/IG live)

11:30am: Puffin Trivia Game (also viewable on FB/IG live)

The event takes place rain or shine. Dress accordingly

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