Nature & Wildlife
Large colonies of seabirds crowd offshore rocks and Tufted Puffins are observed at Haystack Rock. Colorful and mysterious forms of marine life cover intertidal rocks and fill tidepools. Herds of Roosevelt Elk emerge from the edges of the rainforest to graze in coastal meadows. Bald Eagles patrol the skies and Brown Pelicans skim the surf. Approximately 18,000 Gray Whales can be observed each spring and winter making one of the natural world’s most amazing migrations. From the tiniest hummingbirds to the 35-ton Gray Whales, Cannon Beach offers access to natural areas that reveal all of these wonders. A walk on the beach, a visit to a viewpoint or a hike through the rainforest rewards outdoor lovers with exciting scenes of nature. A multitude of vibrant ecosystems, from woodlands and wetlands to rocky shores, makes Cannon Beach a great year-round wildlife watching destination.
Here are some nature and wildlife watching opportunities you will want to consider for your Cannon Beach visit:
Many colorful and strange creatures live where the rocky coastline meets the sea. As the tide recedes, a unique and diverse environment is revealed in tidepools and intertidal areas. Bright sea stars in a variety of colors cling tightly to rocks. Green anemones lay open like flowers at the bottom of pools. A trained eye will find varieties of crabs, snails, limpets, coral, sponge and colorful sea slugs known as nudibranchs. One of the most accessible locations to explore the intertidal zone is at the base of Haystack Rock. Tidepool Tips: Check the tide tables for the lowest tide and arrive ready to explore as the tide is going out. Walk only on sand or bare rock to avoid damage to the life in these amazing natural areas. The area surrounding Haystack Rock is designated a “Marine Garden” and all marine life is protected. Removing any materials is prohibited and a good rule for all intertidal areas. Haystack Rock Awareness Program: During daytime low tides from May to Labor Day, the Haystack Rock Awareness Program offers nature interpretive programs on the beach at Haystack Rock.
Beaches, rocky shores, woodlands, wetlands and estuaries make Cannon Beach a great birdwatching destination year-round. The near-shore and offshore rocks along Cannon Beach are part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and some of nature’s greatest seabird displays can be observed including nesting Tufted Puffins and crowded colonies of Common Murres. Ecola Creek is another active spot for birds. The Cannon Beach Trail follows the winding creek, passes through woodland and wetland habitat and the lagoons just east of downtown on 2nd Street. Puffins: Haystack Rock’s grassy covering provides nesting ground for Tufted Puffins from early spring through mid-summer, offering the Northwest’s most accessible location for viewing these brightly colored characters. Murres: Common Murres are the most abundant seabird found on the Oregon Coast and their sheer numbers can be astonishing as they sometimes cover every flat surface of offshore rocks where they nest shoulder-to-shoulder. Thousands of the penguin-like murres can be seen in spring and summer, with the greatest concentrations on Bird Rocks near Chapman Point at the north end of Cannon Beach. Pelicans: From spring through fall, Brown Pelicans can be observed soaring just above the waves or diving into the water with a splash. Eagles: Bald Eagles are a common sight along the beaches, patrolling offshore rocks or wetlands. In recent years they are increasingly seen hunting at Haystack Rock and the murre colony at Bird Rocks.
Visitors to Cannon Beach often encounter herds of Roosevelt Elk, calmly grazing in meadows or meandering through the forest. Elk are most frequently seen in early mornings and late evenings during the quiet seasons. Check the meadows at Ecola State Park or grassy areas of Les Shirley Park along the north side of Ecola Creek.
There’s nothing like the experience of seeing a 30-ton Gray Whale surface and exhale with a “whoosh,” sending a spout of mist and vapor into the air. Several varieties of whales might be spotted any time of year, but the most commonly seen is the Gray Whale, which migrates along the coast twice annually. Any walk on the beach or visit to Ecola State Park can become an encounter with these magnificent creatures.
Seals & Sea Lions
Seals and sea lions are sometimes spotted from the beach or viewpoints overlooking rocky haul-outs. Seals might be seen bobbing in the water just offshore and sometimes seals and sea lions are found on the beach. Baby seals are occasionally left on the beach by their mothers while they hunt for food. Never touch or move a baby seal. Its mother will return and moving a baby seal will endanger its survival. Sea lions are occasionally seen on beaches when they are molting. If you find a sea lion on the beach, stay clear, keep dogs at a distance and notify local authorities. The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network responds to reports of mammals on the beach and will check the animal and post signs to keep beach-goers clear until the creature returns to the sea.