Multitudinous Migration
By Jenna Boyle Feehan
Published: 02/18/2011  Updated: 08/07/2019
USFWS/David Ledig

After spending the winter months in balmy southerly climes, tens of thousands of shorebirds make their way to northern breeding grounds. Catch sight of the masses in springtime as they stop to rest and dine on the North Pacific shores.

The Pacific Northwest coast represents a critical portion of the North American Pacific Flyway, a superhighway for migratory avifauna. Twice a year, in fall and spring, we get to gander at massive flocks as they pass on through. During the springtime migration period (April through the beginning of May), bays, estuaries and beaches positively teem with shorebirds like Dunlin, Whimbrel, Plovers and Dowitchers. Thousands of skittering birds probe the water and sand for morsels of aquatic invertebrates, seeking sustenance for their continued journey. Each bird navigates the several-thousand-mile excursion with a miraculous avian GPS (involving sensing the Earth's magnetic field, utilization of topographical cues and/or the Follow the Other Guys method), arriving at arctic breeding grounds ready to find a mate and raise a family during the short northern summer.

The town of Hoquiam, Washington commemorates the spectacular vernal event with the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, this year to be held April 29-May 1. Grays Harbor supports hordes of Sanderling, Dunlin, Red Knot, Least and Western Sandpipers, Yellowlegs and Short- and Long-billed Dowitchers. Similar species are found in abundance at Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge, both at Leadbetter Point and on the shores of the bay. In Northern Oregon, find aggregations of Whimbrel, Semi-palmated Plover, Dunlin and Yellowlegs at Fort Stevens State Park and Necanicum River Estuary. Near Lincoln City, the Road's End Recreation Site supports transient groups of Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin and Western and Least Sandpipers. Southern Oregon sites include the Siuslaw River South Jetty (with Sanderling, American and Golden Pacific Plover, and Western, Least, Baird's and the occasional Pectoral Sandpiper) and Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, known for its expansive tidal salt marsh that attracts shorebirds by the tens of thousands.

To witness the massive pilgrimage of these diminutive creatures is breath-capturing, awe-inspiring and downright fantastic. Grab some binocs and behold the great migration!
Multitudinous Migration