Bird Watching

The islands lie close to the edge of the continental shelf. The up-welling process that occurs here brings nutrients and oxygen-rich water close to the surface, fueling a rich food chain that supports large numbers of marine mammals and birds. Because of this, the Farallon Islands host the largest breeding colony of seabirds in the continental United States. Many of these birds may be seen on trips to the Gulf of The Farallones from May through August. Of course, not every species will be observed on every single trip. Species breeding here include:

  • Leach’s Storm Petrel
  • Ashy Storm Petrel
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Brandt’s Cormorant
  • Pelagic Cormorant
  • Western Gull
  • Tufted Puffin
  • Rhinoceros Auklet
  • Cassin’s Auklet
  • Pigeon Guillemot
  • Common Murre
Visiting Birds

This high level of productivity also attracts other species, in addition to those that breed here. Visitors from the Southern Hemisphere include several Shearwaters:

  • Sooty
  • Short-tailed
  • Flesh-footed
  • Pink-footed
  • Black-vented
  • Buller’s

Occasionally we are lucky enough to see a few species that traditionally breed in Mexico:

  • South Polar Skua
  • Elegant Tern
  • Xantu’s Murrelets
  • Craveri’s Murrelets
Migratory Birds

These rich waters are also a destination along migratory routes for birds that breed further north or west of the California coast. These species include:

  • Northern Fulmar
  • Black-footed Albatross
  • Laysan Albatross
  • Fork-tailed Storm Petrel
  • Red and Red-necked Phalarope
  • Sabine’s Gull
  • Arctic Tern
  • Parasitic, Pomarine and Lon-tailed Jaegers
Bird Watching Expeditions

We offer trips to the Farallones especially for bird watchers. These tours are accompanied by naturalists especially familiar with the seabirds of our region. Bird watching trips have been big hits with photographers, too! We can also arrange a private charter for your bird watching club or group. See our Private Charters page for more information.

On any given day in the Gulf of the Farallones, other birds including loons, grebes, scoters, alcids, and various species of gulls and terns, may be seen. Rarities such as boobies, petrels and tropicbirds have even made appearances for lucky bird watchers on occasion. Of course, varying weather and sea conditions mean that the number and variety of birds will always change from one visit to another. The motion of the boat, fog and sea spray can make viewing seabirds a challenging activity as well as a wonderfully satisfying one. It will always be easier to see an albatross with a seven-foot wingspan than a small storm petrel flying away from the boat. We can’t predict or guarantee what you will see, but if you come aboard with a sense of adventure, it is very likely that you will have an adventure.