The New Chick on the Rock

Welcome again to another episode in the life of Christian Cortez! I’m your host: Christian Cortez. New faces have appeared at Yaquina Head these past couple of days, and no I’m not just talking about the guests either! Summer is in full swing; school is out, the sun is shining, everyone is on vacation and the weather has been truly wonderful. With sunny skies and cool winds, its the perfect recipe that attracts many of our guests to the natural area. In one day, we had as many as 1,400 people come by the tide pools! Now that’s a whole lot education going on! Along side our guests, we have many new faces appear in Yaquina Head… specifically bird faces.

New chicks have been peeping their heads out of the nests, barely opening their eyes to a whole new world. Working with Oregon State University Seabird Oceanography Lab, I get the opportunity to see some of our new feathery friends early in the mornings. The first chicks to appear from our monitoring were Brandt’s cormorant chicks, with the Pelagic cormorants following soon afterwards. Its such an exciting and wonderful feeling to see a new baby chick! Checking on several of these parental birds for weeks feels like I’ve developed a strange bond with them. I may not know much about them personally, but its almost like checking up on some friends just to see how they’re doing! These birds will nest alongside the edges of the cliffs facing the ocean and will usually build their nests out of long blades of grass or several types of seaweed. The cormorants will spread out their wings just a bit more than usual to keep the chicks under the wings.

Another bird that we monitor at Yaquina Head are the Western gulls, and they have their chicks as well. These dark-spotted, brown, feathery puff balls are insanely cute. One year they’re being cute and roaming around flapping their little wings, and the next year they’re stealing your ice cream. Most of these little guys are now exploring their surroundings with the supervision of their adults. The adults themselves will build nests on the sides of rocky faces or on flat rocky surfaces, usually utilizing dry grass blades as nesting material. In a couple weeks, these chicks will be ready to fledge and fly!

Several other birds outside of our monitoring also have their chicks hatching at Yaquina Head, specifically the common song sparrow and the loud-yet-elusive black oystercatcher. While many song sparrow nests are well-hidden within bushes and vegetation, some juveniles area already making an appearance. Several young ones will follow adults song sparrows for help and guidance. The oystercatcher chicks are still small but are beginning to venture outside their nest little by little with a parent close by. While all birds are important in my eyes, perhaps the most exciting news is the new appearance of Common murre chicks! Many of us, including OSU Seabird lab members, YHONA rangers, and local birders have been hoping for this exciting news these past couple of days! Its exciting because the past recent years have held little to no success with reproduction within their numbers. As of today, we’ve seen about three chicks on top of the rocks. They’re difficult to spot since murres do not construct any nests, and only use their bodies to keep the eggs safe on top on high rocks. With their growth and occasional feeding patterns from the adults, we’re hoping to see more soon and safe future for them. Stay tuned!

Christian Cortez
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