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Tufted Puffins Return to N. Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach, with 'Shock and Awe'

Published 04/11/2019 at 7:43 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Tufted Puffins Return to N. Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach, with 'Shock and Awe'

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Puffins are back on the north Oregon coast, and they’re beginning to wow the crowds already. The Tufted Puffin is one especially colorful bird and it’s a much-loved icon among bird enthusiasts – even for those who don’t necessarily hold much interest in birds. These adorable creatures seem to bring out the warm ‘n fuzzies in people. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

At Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock is the most coveted hotspot for viewing. Of the 20 or so spots along the Oregon coast where the somewhat rare Tufted Puffin breeds, this is where they are the closest to humans. It’s also where the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) has their volunteers planted, helping you to spot the beautiful little cuties amble around atop the famed landmark. See the Haystack Rock Awareness Program schedule, which generally coincides with daytime low tides.

Kari Henningsgaard is the Communications Coordinator for HRAP. She says even though the bird isn’t really considered rare, it is a great surprise to many when they find out there are tufted puffins here on the Oregon coast – much less anywhere in the state. For whatever reason, there is that perception. There’s even a kind of disbelief; a resistance to the idea.

“That’s the reaction that we get all the time, just about every time,” Henningsgaard said. “They find out there are puffins here and then there is shock and awe. And then sometimes they think they’re not actually there.”

Shawn Stephensen is a biologist with US Fish and Wildlife out of its office in Newport and an expert on the Tufted Puffin. He said they are shrinking population in Oregon.

“They’re not really so rare, but their numbers have declined over the last few years,” Stephensen said. “Historically, along the Oregon coast we’ve had 5,000 but we’re down to a few hundred. They’re also found in California, Washington and Canada along the coasts. In Alaska, there’s a huge population: thousands of colonies of tufted and horned puffins in Alaska. We only get tufted puffins along the Oregon coast, although occasionally a horned puffin washes onshore from somewhere out on the ocean.”

About 20 colonies of these birds are found from one end of the Oregon coast to the other, but Stephensen said they are primarily offshore rocks far from view. Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is a special spot because it’s so close and accessible, and at low tides you can walk right up to the rocks. HRAP even has telescopes to help you see them while its volunteers are out there.

Another good spot is Face Rock at Bandon, and Three Arch Rocks at Oceanside has the largest colony of them. It’s impossible to spot them without excellent optics, however, as the Three Arch Rocks - technically a national wildlife refuge - are quite a ways out into the ocean.

Stephensen said Haystack Rock is a “great opportunity to look at puffins close up.” It’s also where there’s a lot of study and monitoring going on.

“We estimated last year 124 puffins breed there on the rock,” he said. “They nest in burrows. We determine that by an observer that spends a minimum 20 hours a week counting the birds in air, on water and on land, documenting which burrows are active. That’s how we come up with that number.”

Henningsgaard said the birds are most active in the mornings, but tend to stay hidden the rest of the day. That may be why there’s that impression there are none around here and only in Europe (where some puffins are so plentiful they’re a common dish served in restaurants).

The height of tufted puffin season is now through July or August. Then they have usually completely disappeared by September, after which they hang out along the waters of the Oregon coast. Lodging in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Cannon Beach Maps and Virtual Tours

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