What are pelagic birds?
Pelagic birds, such as the three albatrosses in the center, are joined by near shore gulls about 30 miles offshore. The albatrosses roam the open ocean of the entire North Pacific, whereas these gulls are restricted to beaches and nearshore waters of the Pacific Northwest.
Pelagic birds by definition would be those found in the open sea, away from continental land masses. Birders use the term pelagic birds a little more loosely to describe any seabird that is more regularly observed from a boat at sea than from on land.
Certain taxonomic families of birds are included as pelagic birds, even if some individuals in the family may be seen from shore or on land regularly. Those family groups include albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, jaegers and skuas, and alcids (auks). It also generally includes a few certain highly marine members of the gulls, shorebirds, and terns that are open ocean specialists.
Black-footed Albatrosses closely approach the boat.
Of all Oregon's pelagic birds, the Black-footed Albatross is certainly a crowd-pleasing favorite.
Gliding effortlessly over the waves, these birds have a 7 foot wingspan. Though they nest in the outer Hawaiian Islands (Laysan and Midway), they spend the non-breeding season in the food-rich California Current off the Pacific Northwest.
They endear themselves to pelagic birders because they often fly by the boat to investigate intruders into their realm. They are easily enticed to within arm's reach by scraps of bread, squid, meat, or fish. They are very photogenic.
Expected every trip, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are regular, March to October. They are found from 12 to 50 miles offshore. Generally, small numbers are seen on most trips, but larger numbers, including flocks of hundreds, may occasionally be noted in spring and fall. They are attracted near the boat by cod liver oil.
Even though they breed along shore, they are not often viewed from land. They are only active at their nest burrows at night. They spend the days far at sea foraging for food.
South Polar Skua
South Polar Skuas are on many birder's target list of pelagic birds.
Skuas are gull-like seabirds of the open ocean. Big brutes, they steal other seabird's food by attacking and making them regurgitate their last meal. They may even kill and eat other seabirds.
They aren't very common, with only a few thousand individuals spread out in the entire Pacific Ocean. Their regular migration takes them past the shores of the Pacific Northwest in the late autumn when one to 5 birds on pelagic trips is typical. As their name suggests, these birds nest in Antarctica.
The clown-faced Tufted Puffin mysteriously disappears in winter.
Tufted Puffins nest along the ocean shores from Alaska to northern California. Nevertheless, they often choose offshore islands with inaccessible sea cliffs for their nesting locations. Thus, many birders are excited to see them at close range when they show up on pelagic birding trips.
Where they go in the winter, when they dessert their nesting colonies on sod-covered islands and offshore rocks, is a bit of a mystery. It is assumed they swim offshore hundreds or thousands of miles into the central North Pacific, but wherever they go, they are rarely encountered in winter.
Expected Oregon Pelagic Birds
Laysan Albatross (late fall-spring)
Black-footed Albatross (year-round)
Northern Fulmar (early fall-spring)
Pink-footed Shearwater (spring-fall)
Flesh-footed Shearwater (fall)
Buller's Shearwater (fall)
Sooty Shearwater (spring-fall)
Short-tailed Shearwater (fall-winter)
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (spring-fall)
Red Phalarope (spring, fall)
Red-necked Phalarope (spring, fall)
South Polar Skua (fall)
Pomarine Jaeger (spring, fall)
Parasitic Jaeger (spring, fall)
Long-tailed Jaeger (spring, fall)
Black-legged Kittiwake (fall-spring)
Sabine's Gull (spring, fall)
Common Tern (spring)
Arctic Tern (spring, fall)
Common Murre (year-round)
Pigeon Guillemot (year-round)
Cassin's Auklet (year-round)
Marbled Murrelet (year-round)
Ancient Murrelet (late fall, winter)
Rhinoceros Auklet (year-round)
Tufted Puffin (spring-fall)