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Raptors of the North Oregon Coast
Seaside - Gearhart

By Don Anderson for the Seaside Signal

Seaside Signal imageMany birders might associate raptor sightings with the warmer and drier conditions of eastern Oregon. But the meadows, waterways and marshes of the North Coast attract several of these magnificent birds, which are easy to see because of their size. Raptors are any bird of prey, like a hawk, eagle, falcon or osprey. In fact, the Seaside area has all four types of birds.

The most commonly spotted raptor in this area is the red-tailed hawk. Often seen perching on overhead electric wires, red-tails do well in almost any environment and are permanent residents in much of the U.S., from the rainy coasts to the desert southwest. Red-tails are known for their highly variable plumage, and those on the Oregon coast tend to be much darker than those of the open country. Their dusky coloring helps keep them camouflaged in the dark forests where they hunt everything from rabbits to gophers and other small mammals.

Bald eagles, with their huge wingspans, are also spotted all along the North Coast. Eagles prefer fish, but will also take unwary ducks and carrion on the beach. Excellent places to spot eagles up close are the Young's Bay area on old pilings where the birds perch in-between feedings.

One of the most intriguing of the local raptors is the northern harrier. This hawk is unusual in that it flies low over the ground, usually between three and 10 feet. The hawk's owl-like face allows it to hear small prey in the grasses it patrols with relentless persistence. The harrier is easy to spot, with its bright white band at the base of its tail. It is also the only large hawk to hunt so low.

Peregrine falcons are fairly common along Oregon beaches. They like to take birds in flight and are ferocious defenders of their territory. Last year a peregrine even took out a bald eagle that encroached on its hunting grounds near Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. The falcon dove on the eagle, breaking its wing and sending into the surf below. Peregrines are hard to spot on the coast, mainly because they fly so fast. But once a birder gets used to their unique swept-back wingspan and facial patches, they are unmistakable.

Another raptor, the kestrel, is the smallest of the falcons. These are usually seen either perching on wires or hovering over meadows in search of small prey like mice and voles. The kestrel likes open areas.

The Cooper's hawk is a local denizen of the forests. An accipiter, its wings are designed for pursuing birds in the forest with rapid acceleration and an ability to turn quickly. The Cooper's hawk is between the red-tail and kestrel in size, with a dark back and a reddish breast.

Lastly, we have the bird nearly everyone along the Oregon coast has seen at one time or another. The osprey.

Ospreys have a unique, gull-shaped wing design and are the only raptor to dive completely under water in pursuit of their prey. Ospreys eat fish exclusively and can be seen in action along some of our quieter waterways. The can also be spotted in numerous nests later in the season. Some common nesting sites are at Warrenton High School, Broadway Middle School, and along the Skipanon River.

With spring here, birders are out in force. Raptors along the North Coast are some of the most rewarding birds to view and photograph. For more information on birding and on the birds of this area, see audubonportland.org.

Seaside Signal

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