Cape Falcon Marine Reserve completes two years of sea bird monitoring

How are our local seabirds responding to changes in our ocean and climate? Volunteer citizen scientists aim to find out through seabird nest monitoring along Oregon’s coast. This past August closed out two years of data collection within the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve.
The Audubon Society of Portland with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, and Haystack Rock Awareness Program started monitoring seabird nesting success within the state’s northern most marine reserve in 2016. Joe Liebezeit, Avian Conservation Program Manager with the Audubon Society of Portland, shares that the effort “has been a great opportunity to understand how nesting seabirds adjacent to the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve are faring while at the same time engaging interested members of the public as citizen scientists to help do the monitoring.”
Cape Falcon Marine Reserve is one of five areas in Oregon’s ocean set aside for conservation and scientific research. These areas of natural wonder along Oregon’s coastline are essentially underwater parks full of a diversity of plants and animals. Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, located between Falcon Cove and Manzanita, includes a 12.4 square mile marine reserve, where all removal of marine life and ocean development is prohibited. Adjacent to the marine reserve are two marine protected areas (7.6 square miles). The marine protected areas (MPAs) still prohibit ocean development, but allow for some limited fishing activities.
The Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve is a group of local people and organizations who are working to increase understanding and appreciation of the marine reserve and to promote ocean conservation locally. The Friends Coordinator, Chrissy Smith, shares “These sites are essentially living
laboratories. They offer the opportunity for the science community to fill in knowledge gaps about our nearshore coastal ocean and the wildlife utilizing these areas.”
The project, which runs from June through August, recruits local community members to assist in monitoring the nests, counting eggs, and watching hatchling success. “Looking through the spotting scopes and watching the cormorants for an hour or two is captivating,” says first-time volunteer and local Manzanita resident, Phyllis Thompson, “The experience was extremely educational and I learned a lot. I also met some of my neighbors that I didn’t know before that are terrific members of the North Coast Community – both people and birds!” This year 17 dedicated local citizens and even some folks from the Willamette Valley participated in the monitoring project. Project partner, Shawn Stephensen of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares, “This is a program we want to see continue. Due to budget constraints, we wouldn’t be able to do the work without dedicated local citizens.”
“Cormorants are monitored as an indicator species helping us understand ocean conditions and food availability for many different seabirds,” continues Stephensen, who works as the Refuge Wildlife Biologist. This data is used to help create a baseline of information about cormorant populations along Oregon’s coast and within the state-managed marine reserves. Monitoring includes specifically defined areas both inside and outside of the Marine Reserve. Cape Falcon’s reference site is in Cannon Beach and monitoring occurs with the help of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program and volunteers. “This summer we monitored 66 cormorant nests at Cape Perpetua and 46 nests at Cape Falcon.” Amelia O’Connor, project lead for Audubon Society of Portland, shares, “Between the two sites we watched 114 cormorant chicks successfully fledge. At Cape Falcon [Marine Reserve], we saw 18 Brandt’s Cormorant chicks fledge from our 18 monitored Brandt’s nests, 20 Double-crested Cormorants out of 13 monitored Double-crested nests, and 10 Pelagic Cormorants out of 16 monitored Pelagic nests.” Audubon will release a full report and comparison of the data collected over the last two years sometime this fall.
The Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, Audubon Society of Portland and partners are always looking for volunteers. People interested in helping with the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve site should contact Chrissy Smith at or Joe Liebezeit at People can also support ocean conservation at the local level by donating to the Friends. Address checks to Lower Nehalem Community Trust and put “Friends of Cape Falcon MR” in the memo line. Donations can be mailed to Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve c/o Lower Nehalem Community Trust, P.O. Box 496, Manzanita, OR 97130.
Stay connected and up-to-date on activities, presentations, and learning opportunities through the Friends of Cape Falcon MR website (, or through the groups’ Facebook and Instagram sites.