The Shorebird Show
By Mike Patterson
Published: 06/13/2008  Updated: 08/15/2019

Migration is the time to see the greatest variety of shorebirds.

We all know sandpipers, those strange little birds that run back and forth in the surf together, that form into flocks that turn together in flight as if communicating telepathically. There are over 50 different species of sandpipers (also known as shorebirds) that frequent the Northwest coast. Some are common and found year-round. Some are only seen when migrating north to their breeding grounds in the arctic tundra or south to their off-season haunts in Central America.

Migration is the time to see the greatest variety of shorebirds. The northbound migration tends to be compressed around the first few weeks of May, but the return trip south is more leisurely and extends from late June all the way to early October. The mix of accessible rocky shores, sandy beaches and estuarine tidal flats found on the Northwest coast make for some of the most spectacular shorebird-watching habitat in western North America.

The south jetty of the Columbia River at Fort Stevens State Park is perhaps the most well known site to watch for shorebirds and is best at high tide. The Salicornia wetlands at the jetty attract many difficult to find species like Pectoral, Sharp-tailed and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Both species of Golden Plover are annual residents. Estuarine flats like those at Willapa Bay, the Necanicum Estuary in Seaside, Tillamook Bay and Siletz Bay in Lincoln City attract large numbers of shorebirds.

During peak movements in July and August, impressive feeding flocks of Western and Least Sandpipers, Dowitchers and Semipalmated Plovers cover the exposed mud, feasting on sandworms and amphipods during low tide. Sanderlings playing tag with the incoming surf or a whimbrel probing for Mole Crabs are a near certainty along the open beach anywhere from Newport to the Columbia River.

The rocky shoreline of Ecola, Oswald West and Cape Meares State Parks provide nesting space for the flamboyantly billed Black Oystercatcher. Turnstones, Surfbirds, Wandering Tattler and Rock Sandpiper are all regular migrants and winter residents in these rocky areas. A day watching shorebirds is a day spent celebrating the diversity that is the Northwest's scenic coast.
The Shorebird Show