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Tufted Puffin Numbers Up at Cannon Beach but Down on Rest of Oregon Coast

Published 11/28/23 a 3:55 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oregon Coast) – A survey by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2023 found that the tufted puffin (Fratrecula cirrhata) had a decent increase in population numbers at Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, though overall trends from other studies show a large decline everywhere on the Oregon coast. (Photo Seaside Aquarium)

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Cannon Beach was the only area in the 2023 document, written by USFWS' Shawn Stephensen (an unpublished paper that regional media were given access to). It was the only part of the coast surveyed thoroughly this year, while all other parts of the region were looked at leading up to and including 2022.

While the Cannon Beach rise for the adorable little bird is a hopeful sign, USFWS still refers to the trend as “an order of magnitude decline.” When the first survey on the Oregon coast was done in 1979 they found 6,632 individual birds at 38 colonies, while in 1988 there were 4,858 individual birds at 49 colonies.

As of the 2022 survey, observers found a little over 550.

Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock is the most visible home to the tufted puffin on this coastline, with varied observers helping out on these puffin stakeouts – including personnel from Seaside Aquarium, Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) and Friend of Haystack Rock. The numbers there hit a new low in '22 with only 74 individuals, However, they found 106 in 2023.

Tufted puffins atop Haystack Rock - Seaside Aquarium

“The Tufted Puffin population has declined in Oregon over the past 30 years and scientific studies need to be conducted for further investigation,” writes Stephensen. “Haystack Rock is an important nesting site for Tufted Puffins and current data suggest Haystack Rock supports the second largest puffin colony in Oregon due to declines at other sites along the coast.”

For the last 13 years, numbers have shown a steadier population on top of the Cannon Beach landmark – if you're only looking at those years. It's vacillated from about 80 to 125 puffins each year since 2010, Yet the count of 400 there in the late '70s is still the highest number ever seen and researchers say the general trend is still drastically downwards.

Because of its closeness, Haystack Rock has been relatively easier for observing the puffins, and the studies acknowledge that when noting the skimpy numbers of areas like Bandon's Haystack Rock, Face Rock and the Cat and Kittens. In 2021, for example, observers found none on those landmarks during their survey days.

One remarkable statistic showed 100 puffins on one section of Whaleshead Cove near Brookings in 1979, and only two spotted there in 2008. There were 7 others on another section of the cove that year, however.

Courtesy Ram Pampish

Finley Rock, part of the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge off Oceanside, is believed to the be the largest colony of tufted puffins in Oregon. In 2021, it and the other two rock landmarks supported a mere 200 or so – a tenth of the more than 2,000 that once bred there.

All these aforementioned sea stacks and rocky areas are considered part of the wildlife refuge. They also include many of the sea stacks you see off the southern Oregon coast and areas like Heceta Head and parts of Otter Rock.

Graphic USFWS

“Possible causes of puffin decline include factors related to conditions at breeding sites, at-sea mortality due to direct human impacts such as net bycatch and oil spills, and long-term changes in marine food webs that affect reproductive success, winter survival, and distribution,” Stephensen writes.

In spite of these numbers, the tufted puffin did not make endangered species status when it was considered back in 2020. Part of that is due to an enormous population in Alaska of some 2.3 million.

Even so, HRAP expressed its pride in its part in the study, and to those dealing with Haystack Rock on a regular basis the jump from 74 to 106 puffins raising their young is good news.

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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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Keywords: Oregon coast, Port Orford, Bandon, Coos Bay, tufted puffins, Cannon Beach, Seaside, history, science