Ask the Naturalist

Ask the Naturalist: Seabird Feeding Frenzy at Point Montara

September 25, 2015

Q: In the coastal waters just beyond the Point Montara Lighthouse a few weeks ago, I saw an astounding number of seabirds, including murres, cormorants, and pelicans, plus a lone whale surfacing at the outer fringe of the gathering. Someone said they might be feeding on squid. Are squid common on the coast this time of year? — Bessie, Berkeley

A: Well, this year there has been a very high level of seabird activity close to shore, including flocks of Sooty Shearwaters numbering in the hundreds of thousands in Marin and San Mateo counties. The number of seabirds is not unusual, but it unusual that they are consistently close to shore, along with Humpback Whales. What is going on this year is that food is poor offshore, but more concentrated at the coast. Currently most of the “bait”– as small fish and squid are termed — tend to be anchovy as well as small mackerel. The reason appears to be the warm water “blob” that is offshore: Warm water is less food-rich than cold water, and this has concentrated the food and the feeding closer to shore than would normally be the case. — Alvaro Jaramillo, consulting bird biologist with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO)

Cuban tody: Photo by Alvaro Jaramillo

About Alvaro Jaramillo

Alvaro leads bird identification workshops for SFBBO, and offers birding and nature tours through his outfit Alvaro’s Adventures, including pelagic tours of Half Moon Bay and customized birding tours throughout South America and the Caribbean.

>> Read more about Alvaro’s passion for birds and birding in this 2011 Bay Nature interview.


About the Author