Beautiful Bird Migrations Patterns along the Tillamook Coast, Oregon Skip to content

Tillamook Coast Life Blog

Bird Migration around the Tillamook Coast

Some surprising visitors: bird migration

The main northward push of shorebird migration on the Tillamook Coast is in May each year. The main migrants include Whimbrels, tiny Western Sandpipers moving through by the thousands, slightly largerDunlins adorned with reddish backs and a black belly patch, Semipalmated Plovers with a single black breastband, and Black-bellied Plovers. Rarer migrants include Red Knots, Pacific Golden-Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, and Long-billed Curlews.

Bird with long beak, standing in the grass
Marbled Godwit is similar in size and color pattern to the Long-billed
Curlew, but note the bill curves up rather than down.

These migrants are often found in Tillamook County estuaries, and sometimes in wet pastures, but the bulk of them move up the outer beaches. In Tillamook County, the best beaches for migrating birds are at Neskowin, Robert Straub State Park at Pacific City, Netarts Spit in Cape Lookout State Park, Bayocean Spit, Barview Jetty past Rockaway Beach and Manhattan Beach, and Nehalem Spit in Nehalem Bay State Park.

Pacific Golden Plover: speckled bird with white stripe and black belly wades in water
Pacific Golden-Plovers nest in western Alaska and
winter on islands all over the tropical Pacific. A few migrate up and down the west

On these beaches the birds feed on invertebrate life living on the sand. The largest birds, the Whimbrels and godwits, feed extensively on adult Mole Crabs. Smaller shorebirds feed on immature Mole Crabs, small worms that burrow in the sand, and sand fleas (amphipods). These food sources tend to be patchy, so the bids hunt up and down the beaches. The best patches are likely to be visited over and over, so locating those will help you to find the birds more easily.

Red Knot bird wading in the Pacific
Rad Knots are uncommon on the Oregon Coast, as most of the
Pacific population stages at Humboldt Bay in California, then flies directly to Willipa
Bay in Washington.

Most of these birds are heading for the arctic tundra, where they breed. The breeding season is very short, but because arctic summer days are long and food (insects and other invertebrates) is abundant, they can manage to pair up, mate, lay and incubate eggs. Typically birds will raise a brood of young in less than three months. Timing is critical: arrive too soon and the weather is likely bad, and food is not yet available. Arrive too late and the season likely will end before the young are fully grown and ready to migrate. So, to hit this window just right, the birds are traveling up the Oregon coast mainly in May with some delayed into June.

Long-billed bird holds a crab in its beak
The Whimbrel’s main food on our beaches is the Mole Crab.
Special birds:

Bar-tailed Godwits are smaller relatives of the Marbled Godwits with the same slightly upturned bills, but in breeding plumage with reddish faces and chests. They have recently become famous for their incredible migratory flights. They migrate from breeding areas in western Alaska to wintering grounds in New Zealand: distances of over 7000 miles.

Bird walking in the water
This Bar-tailed Godwit is a rare vagrant blown east from
its normal migratory path in the western Pacific.

The first one tracked by satellite transmitter took nine days of continuous flapping flight without food or water. Bar-tailed Godwits are rare vagrants to the Oregon coast primarily in fall, but this spring some north-bound migrants ran into strong westerly winds and were blown east. They are flocking with the Whimbrels, so to look for them, locate Whimbrel flocks and pick through them for the slightly smaller birds with upturned bills, reddish underparts and faces, and a silvery cast to the upper wing surface. One bird that has been working the beaches near Waldport is carrying a series of color bands, which demonstrate that it was banded in New Zealand.

A Picture of Wayne Hoffman
Wayne Hoffman
Wayne Hoffman, a native Oregonian who resides near Newport, Oregon, is trained as a behavioral ecologist (BS and MS in Zoology from Oregon State University, Ph.D. from the University of South Florida). Wayne has worked on seabird biology, marine mammal and sea turtle distribution and ecology, forest bird habitat needs and foraging behavior, and habitat value of forests and forest plantations under different harvest regimes. For the past 16 years, Wayne has worked for the MidCoast Watersheds Council, with an emphasis on restoration of stream habitat for salmon, steelhead, and trout. Wayne is also an avid nature photographer, concentrating on birds, mammals, wildflowers, and insects.