Seabirds are hatching at Haystack Rock

Photo by Charlie Rutkowski of black oystercatchers.

Puffins are an amazing draw to Haystack Rock, but the popular destination is an ecosystem to many other flying and swimming creatures.

Seabirds have started to hatch at Haystack Rock and will continue to hatch over the summer. For this reason, the Oregon U.S. Fish and Wildlife won’t have data as to the numbers until late September at the earliest.

Seabirds are ocean-dwelling birds that live off of the sea, only coming to land to breed and raise their young. These birds are rarely seen in the fall and winter, but are spotted in the spring and summer when they return from sea to colonize coastal islands, rocks, and cliffs. When spring arrives, thousands of seabirds can be seen around nesting islands as they reinforce pair bonds and prepare to mate.

Although they don’t have exact numbers, the HRAP can observe and monitor the population in general terms. According to them, they see the common murre as their most stable and prevalent seabird population.

“Without official monitoring, it’s hard to get exact numbers, but we estimate that we have at least 1,000 nesting at the Rock,” said Kari Henningsgaard, Communications Coordinator of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP).

Haystack Rock also has several Western gull chicks so far, according to Henningsgaard. A pair of black oystercatchers have been sitting on eggs for about a week and are expected to hatch in a couple of weeks. The rest of the seabirds (cormorants, common mure, pigeon guillemots, etc.) are currently laying or have already laid eggs, but most are still several weeks away from hatching.

The HRAP also monitors cormorant nests on the south side of Haystack Rock throughout the nesting season. In 2018, there were a few early nesters hatching around July 13, but there were also a couple of late nests that didn’t have chicks until mid-August.

Visually, the HRAP have noticed an increase in the number of pigeon guillemots nesting from last year but don’t have the data yet. They estimate that the population is probably under 50. Cormorants appear to have increased in population as they have twice as many nests in their survey plot from last year. Puffin populations are in decline and have been for several years.

Major threats to seabirds are habitat loss and destruction, human disturbance, light pollution, discarded fishing hooks and nets, plastic, toxic contaminants including oil spills, pesticides, and pollution; and global climate change. Human disturbance can be disastrous to seabirds and is against the law. Low flying aircraft and close approaching boats can disturb common murre, causing them to fly from their eggs or chicks. This disturbance leaves eggs and chicks exposed, allowing gulls and ravens to take advantage by eating them.

When walking on the beach, avoid areas where birds are nesting, leave dogs at home or on a leash during breeding season, never let your dogs chase birds, pick up your trash, and discard fish hooks in the trash. Be aware of the wildlife around you.

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