Friday, April 1, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: Oceanside Pier

We head to the beach as we continue our monthly series of common San Diego birds. The Oceanside Pier is a tourist and fishing destination overlooking a popular surfing and sun bathing beach.

Oceanside Pier

Surfer at Oceanside

So, what common birds might you see walking out the Oceanside Pier or along similar sandy beaches and overlooks in San Diego County?

Elegant Tern
Elegant Tern (Royal Terns left and right foreground). Oceanside, California. December 29, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Elegant Tern
These are the common summer and fall terns along the beaches of southern California. You can see them plunge-diving for anchovies in the shallow waters near shore. Most (150,000 pairs) breed on Isla Rasa, in Mexico's Gulf of California. However, during warm water years, up to 70% of the population may summer in California, especially in San Diego Bay. In such years 50,000 pairs, or 1/3 the total breeding population may nest in California. (Story here.) Similar San Diego birds: Royal Tern, Caspian Tern, Forster's Tern, Common Tern.

Brown Pelican
Young Brown Pelican. Oceanside Pier, California. May 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Brown Pelican
This bird is emblematic of the poisoning of the environment with the pesticide DDT. After DDT was banned in the 1970's the population of California Brown Pelicans recovered quite nicely. However, it is still vulnerable to oil spills and chemicals that make their way into the food chain. They are also quite sensitive to any disturbance on their breeding islands--even boats approaching too closely to the islands may cause them to abandon their nests. At other times of the year they are much more tolerant of people. There are about 300 nesting pairs on the Coronado Islands off Tijuana, Mexico. And the number of nesting pairs on the Channel Islands off Ventura, California varies from 4000-6000 nesting pairs. No pelicans nest in San Diego County, though. Similar San Diego birds: Brown Booby.

Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull. San Diego Bay, California. March 8, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Heermann's Gull
This gull is different from all others in North America in several ways. The tail is black--even as an adult, the underparts are smoky-gray, the bill is red, and the legs are black. These birds are the constant companions of Brown Pelicans. Rarely will you find one without the other.  The pelicans dive down into the water for fish. These gulls grab any fish the pelicans bring up that might spill out of their throat pouch. Similar San Diego birds: None as adults. The all-dark juveniles may be hidden among other similar juvenile gulls such as California Gulls. Juveniles also may appear and behave similar to Parasitic Jaegers.

Western Gull
Western Gull. La Jolla, California. November 2, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Western Gull
This large dark-mantled gull is the only nesting gull in San Diego County, though many other gulls winter. This species rarely ventures more than 5 miles inland (a bit farther in the south county--to Lake Murray). The beach and harbor areas are its main haunts. Similar San Diego birds: California Gull, Herring Hull, Glaucous-winged Gull.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret. Oceanside Pier, California. September 28, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Snowy Egret
This smaller egret with the "golden slippers" is the most common of several white egrets and herons in San Diego County. They are found along the shores of larger lakes, rivers, and estuaries--even standing out on the kelp beds a half mile offshore! They follow anglers on the pier, probably more interested in the bait than the caught fish that are probably too large to swallow. Similar San Diego birds: Great Egret, Little Blue Heron (immature), Cattle Egret.

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant. San Elijo Lagoon, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Double-crested Cormorant
These dark waterbirds have yellow bare skin on their throats throughout the year. They dive for fish and sometimes swim mostly submerged with only their heads and longer necks sticking out of the water. Like pelicans they are totipalmate--there are webs between all four toes, not just the front three as ducks, gulls, and loons. Their plumage is not completely waterproof. So you may see them on the water's edge with their wings open, drying them in the sun. These birds are found in salt and fresh water across North America, and are the only cormorants likely to be found away from the immediate coastline. Similar San Diego birds: Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant.

Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeon (Domestic Pigeon). Newport, Oregon. March 31, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Rock Pigeon
These birds have been domesticated for thousands of years. They were originally domesticated for food, but in North America they are primarily "pets." Many are feral, nesting on ledges on urban buildings. Many are also found in rural farmlands. Similar San Diego birds: Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon.


Birds to know in San Diego: introduction

Next: Birds to Know in San Diego: Crown Point and Mission Bay.