Bird Watching at Pigeon Point
Source: The Pigeon Point chapter by Peter J. Metropulos in "San Francisco Peninsula Bird Watching", 1996 revision.
A detailed listing of the birds to look for at Pigeon Point, from the common to the uncommon, is available on this web site. Pigeon Point has become famous among birders as one of the finest vantage points for observing seabirds anywhere on the California Coast. Its accessibility, geography (located immediately to the north of bird-rich Monterey Bay) and the presence of deep ocean waters very close to shore combine to produce excellent birding possibilities. Success can be extremely variable, ranging from fair to excellent, depending on season, visibility, observer's skill, duration of visit, and wind direction and velocity.
A good spotting scope is essential because on many days the birds are far offshore. By slowly and repeatedly scanning the sea from surf to horizon, a birder's patience is often rewarded. The best time of day for birding observation is morning when light conditions are most favorable. The prime time of the year is during spring migration (March-May) when thousands of northbound loons, scoters, brant, cormorants, shearwaters, gulls, terns and shorebirds pass this promontory.
An intensive survey of migrant seabirds passing Pigeon Point in the spring of 1976 recorded over one million birds (most of them Pacific Loons)! To observe the numbers and variety of pelagic species here visibility must be good with no fog, haze or glare. A stiff breeze (10 miles per hour or more) from the West or Northwest is very helpful. When conditions are calm or wind blows from east or northeast, birding can be far less productive.
Check the tide-washed rocks below for the resident American Black Oystercatcher, as well as Wandering Tattlers (August-May), Surfbirds (September-April) and Black Turnstones (year-around). Pigeon Point is one of the reliable locations, especially during spring and summer, for observing Marbled Murrelets. A few pairs are resident in the area and may often be found feeding just beyond the surf when the sea is not too rough. From November through February a few Ancient Murrelets are often seen here just offshore. During summer months feeding masses of Sooty Shearwaters are seen from here and may number in the tens of thousands.
In addition to seabirds, Pigeon Point can also be a good place to check for unusual land birds during periods of migration, especially Fall (September-November). Check the wires, scrub, and weedy edges of the roadside and Brussel sprout plantings for "field birds." Rarities such as Tropical Kingbird, Bobolink, Palm Warbler, Red-throated Pipit, Common Ground-Dove, and Clay-colored Sparrow have been spotted here. There are often a few Band-tailed Pigeons on the wires, especially in the morning. Blackbirds may be found through the year in freshly plowed fields and cow pastures in this vicinity.
A good spotting scope and sturdy tripod is essential for good views. Dress warmly and be patient. Consult local weather forecast before your visit to get current conditions.