Bird Watching on Oregon Coast Offshore Rocks

Coastal Rocks are Breeding Oasis for Puffins, Murres, and Cormorants

Driving down the Oregon Coast on U.S. Highway 101, huge rocks jutting out of the ocean are visible from almost every viewpoint. Most teem with seabirds.

Pull-outs with parking make it easy to stop at ocean side viewpoints, and binoculars will bring the world of seabirds up close.

The rock islands, or “sea stacks,” are monoliths rising offshore that provide breeding grounds for more than a million sea birds that return each year. The base of the rocks provides resting or “haul out” sites for seals and sea lions, especially during breeding seasons.

There are more than 1,800 of these offshore rocks and rocky islands, and all are protected by the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge system.

Puffins, Storm-petrels, Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots

Seabirds that nest here include colorful tufted puffins, plus common murres, Leach’s storm-petrels, rhinoceros auklets, Brandt’s and pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, western gulls and black oystercatchers. Endangered California brown pelicans can also be spotted on these rocks.

Different species coexist on the same rock by choosing different niches for their nests: on cliff sides or level shelves, in crevices or burrows, near the rock’s tip, or halfway down.

Spring is nesting season and the time to look for birds flocking to rocks. In summer, the young begin to fledge.

Islands offer safe nesting for seabirds that would otherwise prove easy prey for mainland predators.

Public access on rocks or rocky islands within the refuge system is prohibited. Boats and airplanes are also restricted from approaching too close.

Below are some of the best sites for viewing seabirds on the rocky sea stacks of the Oregon Islands system.

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

On the North Oregon Coast, Haystack Rock lies just offshore from Cannon Beach, an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland on U.S. Highway 26. Signs point the way from the intersection of U.S. 26 with U.S. Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway).

During the summer, naturalists are often on the beach with spotting scopes to help visitors identify puffins and other sea birds nesting on the monolith. At low tide, the rock is accessible from the beach, and tidepools also abound. Climbing the rock, however, is prohibited to protect the birds.

Three Arch Rocks

Located about an hour south of Cannon Beach, just west of Tillamook, this rocky landmark supports Oregon’s largest breeding colonies of tufted puffins and common murres. Viewing is excellent from Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint and the small town of Oceanside, both located on Three Capes Scenic Route. Approaching Tillamook on Highway 101, signs point the way to the Three Capes route.

Yaquina Head at Newport

Continuing south on Highway 101 to the Central Coast, Yaquina Head is well marked five miles north of the town of Newport.

The headland provides excellent views of several large nesting rocks rising just beyond the surf. Birds are plentiful, as are seals and sea lions. Naturalists and rangers are often on site to help visitors spot wildlife, and interpretive signs offer further information.

Coquille Point

On the Southern Oregon Coast, Coquille Point is just west of downtown Bandon, about 120 miles south of Newport on Highway 101.

Here, a quarter-mile interpretive trail provides excellent views of offshore rocks with thousands of seabirds. Stairways at opposite ends of the headland leading to the beach.

From Bandon, Coquille Point can be reached by heading west on 11th Street.

Bird watching is just one of the ways to enjoy nature on the Oregon Coast. Many rocky shores abound in tidepool creatures.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Newport, OR, 541-867-4550

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Bird Watching on Oregon Coast Offshore Rocks

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