Murres, auklets and puffins are oceanic birds and only come to land to nest.
Murres, auklets and puffins are all sea birds that only come ashore to nest. The most unique is the Marbled murrelet which flies inland - sometimes great distances - to nest in coastal coniferous forests.
The most common seabirds breeding in Oregon, Common murres are easily recognized by their distinct black and white breeding plumage and their upright stance at colonies. Wing-beats are rapid and like all alcids they can fly underwater. They are often seen over the ocean in long lines of 10-40 or more birds.
They nest on rocky islands and cliffs in colonies of tens or hundreds of thousands of birds packed together almost shoulder to shoulder. Major nesting concentrations in Oregon are on the south and north coasts reflecting the availability of suitable nesting habitat.
Photo by ©Greg Gilson
During the breeding season Pigeon guillemots are easily seen flying low over the water along rocky coastlines or in estuaries. They have striking red feet, legs, and mouth linings and their large white wing patches contrast markedly with the rest of their black plumage. When standing on land they have a distinctive upright posture and often emit a high-pitched squeal. In the non breeding season they move offshore and look entirely different when their black plumage becomes mottled with white.
The Pigeon guillemot occurs during the breeding season all along the Oregon coast wherever offshore islands or rocky cliffs are present. Most breed in small colonies of under 40 birds.
Photo by Kathy Munsel, ODFW
These small, fast flying seabirds are unique among alcids in North America in their use of coastal coniferous forests, primarily old-growth trees, as nesting habitat. Their solitary nests are usually concealed within the forest canopy, and breeding birds are cryptic and primarily crepuscular at nest sites.
Because of their secretive behavior and elusive nests, Marbled murrelets were considered the "enigma of the Pacific" and were one of the last ornithological mysteries in North America, as the first nest was not discovered until 1974.
Distribution at inland nesting sites is fragmented, as birds occur only in areas where suitable habitat remains. It visits inland breeding sites at all times of the year except during the prebasic molt in early fall.
The Marbled murrelet is an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species in the Coast Range, Klamath Mountains and Nearshore ecoregions.
Photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service
In winter plumage, the crisp black head, white neck patch, and gray back are striking, and when combined with a pale bill this species is readily distinguished from small alcids in Oregon.
Wing-propelled divers, they are nonbreeding visitors to Oregon's offshore waters. They are the only seabirds whose young are reared entirely at sea.
The Ancient murrelet is an uncommon to common fall migrant and winter visitant in shelf waters near shore; rare to uncommon in spring; absent to rare in summer.
Photo by Patty Mcgann, Flickr
Cassin's auklet uses a few offshore lands for breeding in Oregon. It forages in the marine environment and nests in a chamber under rocks or digs its own burrow, two to six feet long, in the soil. This species spends its day at sea and only comes to the burrow at night, perhaps to reduce discovery by predacious Western gulls.
Although few Cassin's auklets nest in Oregon, nesting sites are found along the entire coast where offshore rocks provide appropriate habitat. During the non-breeding season this is the most abundant alcid seen at sea in Oregon. They are present offshore all year.
Photo by Duncan, Flickr
Rhinoceros auklet are one of the rarer breeding alcids in Oregon. Adults are easily recognized during the breeding season by the vertical "horn" at the base of the upper mandible. Birds in breeding plumage have brownish gray backs, a gray-brown chest, and a dirty white belly. Two distinct plumes are present on the head, one above and one below the eye. The bill is orange. In non-breeding plumage the horn is greatly reduced, the plumes absent or reduced, and the bill duller.
It nests in small numbers in Oregon with Goat and Hunter Islands having the largest concentrations of breeding birds. They offshore in winter months, detected as far out as the seaward side of the continental slope. They are occasionally found in lower estuaries, primarily during summer and fall.
Photo by Eric Ellison, Flickr
Horned puffins have an unmistakable black and white plumage and a large, distinct, yellow and orange bill during the breeding season.
They are rare in Oregon, and most commonly encountered dead on the beach in winter or spring, or sighted more than 50 miles offshore in spring.
Individual birds, or possibly pairs, occasionally stay in Oregon for the breeding season and are seen attending colonies with Tufted puffins, but there are no records of breeding in Oregon.
The Tufted puffin is the most recognized seabird in Oregon. It is common to abundant at breeding rocks but rare to uncommon elsewhere owing to its pelagic feeding habits. It is easily identified in the breeding season by the colorful laterally compressed bill, a distinct white face with long cream colored facial plumes, black body, and red feet. In winter it moves offshore and loses most of its colorful plumage and bill plates.
It nests along the entire Oregon coast where soil-covered islands are present. It also nests on headlands such as Cape Mears, Cape Lookout, Cape Foulweather, and Yaquina Head. Major nesting concentration is in the north of the state, with two-thirds of nesting birds at Three Arch Rocks.
The Tufted puffin is an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species in the Nearshore ecoregion.
Photo by Kathy Munsel, ODFW