Over 20 species of land mammals live at Point Lobos, and several other species – such as coyotes and mountain lions – occasionally enter the Reserve from surrounding areas. Visitors will have the greatest opportunity to see those that are active during the day. These include ground and gray squirrels, pocket gophers, black-tailed mule deer and brush rabbits. Ground squirrels are probably the most visible, as their favorite places to burrow are in the soil along near the shore and among the coastal scrub plants. Predators that eat small mammals and birds – such as bobcats and gray foxes – can occasionally be seen in the Reserve. However, many animals that live in the Reserve only become active at late in the evening, at night, or in the early morning, when the Reserve is closed. These include raccoons, skunks and dusky-footed wood rats. But visitors may see droppings (called scat) or footprints along trails anytime, a reminder that animals have recently walked that trail too.

Some reptiles also live at Point Lobos. A visitor can commonly see an alligator lizard, western fence lizard, or western skink sunning itself on a rock or scurrying around in the underbrush. No poisonous snakes have yet been identified at Point Lobos. However, a hiker might encounter any one of several kinds of harmless snakes, including the garter snake.

Land Birds

For want of a better term, we are calling the birds that make a living further inland than shorebirds “land birds” because they spend little or no time away from land. Many of them nest at Point Lobos but tend to be more secretive about it than the shorebirds.

Birds have fascinated people for millennia. We are fascinated by their brilliant colors, their ability to fly, their great diversity (over 11,000 species worldwide), and their antics. Because they possess a wide range of physical capabilities, with most sharing the gift of flight, birds are able to inhabit almost every corner of the earth. They are the consummate traveler. One of the long-range travelers, the Arctic Tern, journeys from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back each year, and, in the process, probably spends eight months of that year in constant daylight. And birds have characteristics that set them apart from any other animal, including their feathers and hollow bones that enable them to fly, and two organs, the crop and the gizzard, that enable them to take on food quickly and grind up hard seeds to make them palatable.

The innate drive to migrate in some birds makes them world travelers, and either brings them to Point Lobos briefly in their travels or for longer periods to find food and/or a place to raise their young.

The Point Lobos docents, supported by the Foundation, have produced a brochure titled A Guide to the Birds of Point Lobos, which can be printed from this website or obtained from the Information Station.

Acorn Woodpecker

This isn’t the most common woodpecker at Point Lobos, but its characteristic clown-like face and harsh vocal sounds make it the most easily identifiable.  You can find them in the forest nearest the highway, e.g., from the South Plateau Trail, which has oak trees mixed in with the pines.  Listen for a variety of calls, including “wacka-wacka-wacka (etc.)” and the name of our former president, “Barack!”

These birds are aptly named, as they harvest acorns and store them in ”granaries” for use during the seasons when oak trees are not producing.  Their favorite granaries are dead pine trees after the bark has peeled off, but they have been known to use wooden power poles, fence posts, and even houses!  (Some homeowners not amused by that.)

California Scrub-Jay

We often get the question, “What’s that beautiful blue bird?” from visitors.  Many docents can answer that question without even seeing the bird or hearing a description, as it almost always refers to the California Scrub Jay.  People from other parts of the country may be familiar with the Blue Jay but have not seen our very common local Jay.  Formerly known as the Western Scrub Jay and commonly called just the Scrub Jay, gets its name from its association with the coastal scrub habitat, not from its raucous “scrubby” sound.   Its blue color is quite astounding, but some locals let its aggressive nature and loud squawking diminish their appreciation for its beauty.

The Jay’s tendency to announce its presence makes it easier to find in shrub lands, oak forests, and residential backyards.  They are not picky eaters, dining on fruit, seeds, acorns, insects, lizards, and just about anything smaller than themselves.  They are near the top of the pecking order at bird feeders, where they commonly chase off other birds (exception: Acorn Woodpeckers). They probably nest at Point Lobos, but don’t make a big show of it.

Steller’s Jay

The Scrub Jay’s cousin is easily identified by the tall pointed crest on its head that gives it a rather noble appearance.  This bird is mostly seen in the pine forest at Point Lobos, and its own raucous calls may help you find it.  This video will let you hear two of the most common calls.  The blue is not quite as vivid as on the Scrub Jay, and the head and shoulders are black or brown.  But the crest more than makes up for its less brilliant blue, and it is always a delight to spot one in a tree.  Note that it is named after the scientist Georg Steller, not stellar, despite the fact that may people may consider its appearance quite stellar.

Steller’s Jays range in the western part of North America from the Pacific Ocean to the Rockies, with small variations in appearance depending on the location.   They are known to mimic the raptors that share their areas, including fellow Point Lobos birds the Osprey, the Red-tailed Hawk, and the Red-shouldered Hawk.  The function of this mimicry is not known.

California Quail

The California Quail male has a most remarkable plumage, with different colors of feathers intermingled in a very complex pattern.  This makes it stand out as unique, but surprisingly also acts as very effective camouflage in their usual habitat.  The head is crowned with a one-feather crest (technical term: “deely-bopper”).  The female is less fancy, with more muted plumage and smaller crest.  Because of their effective camouflage, they are not easy to spot in Point Lobos’ pine forest unless you hear one or more of their calls.

Dark-eyed Junco

The Dark-eyed Junco could be considered one of the iconic birds of the pine forest.  Although It is well camouflaged, it is quite easy to see as it spends most of its time on or near the ground, where it feed on seeds.  You may see them skittering down the road as you drive or fleeing your approach on a trail.  If you see a small bird with white outer tail feathers, you have probably seen a Junco flying away from you.  But you can often see them just collecting seeds on the ground.  Two characteristics stand out – their dark hood (black for the males) gives them the look of an executioner.  But the bill stands out because it is white.

Two unique behaviors can also help you know you have seen a Junco.  They apparently are quite territorial, and easily offended by the image of themselves in the side mirror of a car.  Their furor is displayed by repeatedly jumping and pecking at the mirror, often leaving a white deposit on the mirror and door of the car.  They also forsake their usual place on the ground, where they nest as well as feed, when they are ready to sing for a mate.  For this, they fly to the top of a tall tree (where you can scarcely identify them by their field marks) and set into long twitters.

They breed all over the Monterey Peninsula and are known to have large clutches of tiny chicks which typically run behind the adults. When the brood is out and about, one parent roosts on a nearby shrub and clucks to alert for possible predators.  Then the other adults herd the chicks to cover.  Quail have a number of recognizable calls, the most common of which seems to be calling, “Chicago, Chicago.”

California Thrasher

Nature can be a lot like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – “you never know what you’re gonna get!” This can be particularly true in trying to judge the personality of animals from their appearance. Take the California Thrasher is as an example. Would you expect a plain brown bird with a menacing-looking sharp, down-curved bill to entertain you with its song?  If not, listen to this short video and judge for yourself. Even better, listen to one singing in the coastal scrub near the Information Station at Point Lobos. If it reminds you of the song of the Northern Mockingbird, it is because the two species are related.

The mockingbird’s tone is a bit more melodic, but no more varied than this thrasher.

Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon is a bird of superlatives. First of all, they could be the poster bird for endangered species, as their reproduction was severely affected by DDT-caused eggshell thinning.  But after coming back from the brink of extinction, they are now seen throughout the world in a wide variety of habitats — from wilderness to highly populated cities. Their name suggests that they travel (“peregrinate”) a lot, but a more likely explanation is that they just occupy a wide swath of the earth’s surface. Most impressive is their record for animal speed, as they can reach 200 MPH when diving after prey, birds in flight. When they hit a bird at that speed, the result is often an explosion of feathers and the lifeless body of the prey bird, which may be caught before it reaches the ground. When being fed on the nest, the chicks have been seen to viciously attack the parent offering food, such that the quickly parents learn to just fly over and drop the food to the chicks. The fledglings are taught to do their own hunting by having dead birds dropped near them that they can catch in flight.

Peregrine Falcons are often seen high in trees or rock promontories, where they are on the lookout for birds flying below them. They often hunt cooperatively, with one bird scaring up prey and the other hitting them in the air. At Point Lobos, the best place to look for this superlative bird is in the dead pines near China Cove and Bird Island.

Turkey Vulture

Point Lobos visitors who see a Turkey Vulture often think their quest to see a California Condor has been realized. Alas, although gigantic in their own right, the vulture’s mere six-foot wing span does not begin to measure up to the condor’s nine-foot span. Size can be difficult to estimate in nature when you are seeing a single species, but in addition to the size difference there are a few ways of differentiating between the two species.  The condor has bright white on the front underside of the wings, vs “dirty white” on the rear underside of the Turkey Vulture.

The condor soars on very steady, flat wings, while the vulture “wobbles” on wings held up at an angle (dihedral). (One could imagine that they are just learning to fly.) Finally, due to their endangered status, California Condors are tagged with colored wing tags; you won’t see these on vultures.

Vultures and condors are both considered raptors, but these raptors do not kill their prey. They are attracted to the lovely smell wafting from dead animals. It is not unusual to see vultures riding on a dead marine animal they are dining upon. An immature Turkey Vulture was once seen using its immense wings to hide its meal from potential competitors, including the author.


Shorebirds spend their time along the narrow strip of land we call the shoreline in order to be near the sea, which provides the major part of their food.  Many birds nest on offshore rocks to provide a safe place for their young to survive the most vulnerable part of their life when they are not old enough to fly away from predators.  Visitors to Point Lobos are blessed with being able to enjoy a variety of beautiful and/or whimsical birds.

The pine trees on Coal Chute Point afford a good view of Great Blue Heron nests from the bench at the Pit on the Granite Point trailBird Island and its neighboring offshore rocks give visitors a chance to watch the process from mating to fledging. Pelican Point is a great place to see newly hatched Western Gulls, Brandt’s Cormorants, and Black-crowned Night-Herons. Pelagic Cormorants and our iconic Black Oystercatchers, nest on other parts of the Reserve’s rocky shore.

Black Oystercatchers

These birds are perhaps the most iconic shorebirds of Point Lobos. Their comical – one could even say charicature-like looks – make them entertaining to watch.  And they are nice enough to call attention to themselves with their loud calls from land and while in the air. Once you get to know their calls they are easy to find despite their very dark feathers, which are actually brown. Except for their bright red/orange bill, they blend in very well with the rocks they occupy.

The name of the oystercatcher is a bit misleading. Our local birds mostly eat mussels and limpets.  Their east coast cousins, the American Oystercatchers, can find oysters in beds shallow enough to “catch” them on their rocks.

These birds also have a number of behaviors that give them the charisma that many humans find endearing. They usually stay with the same mate for life, and the pairs are very territorial. They defend their territories from interlopers who would like to move in, and sometimes competing pairs stand in the margin between territories and loudly debate the exact location of the borderline. Both parents incubate the eggs and defend and feed the chicks.

They build their nests in shallow depressions in the rocks, and they are very choosy about which pebbles and shell fragments they use to provide a base for the eggs. They don’t start incubating the eggs until the female is done laying (usually 2-3), so that the eggs all hatch at about the same time. This is necessary because the spindly-legged chicks are up and walking about right after hatching – it would be much more difficult to defend their offspring if some were stationary eggs and others were wandering about and needing to be fed. Eggs hatch in 24-29 days, and chicks can fly starting in about 5 weeks. At this point their bills have become long, but the red color is only at the base while the tip remains black. The parents first bring food to them and later help them find and prepare it on their own. They sometimes stay with their parents until the parents decide it’s time to start the next nesting cycle, and for the “teenagers” to leave the territory.

But it is not as simple as that, because these birds do not have a very strong record of breeding success, measured as the percentage of eggs that result in additions to the breeding population. In the Monterey area, it is less than 20%. Because of this, docents have volunteered to monitor their breeding success in order to help find out how to improve it. Their populations are considered to be threatened but not endangered.

Great Blue Heron

Many people with only a fleeting interest in birds will recognize this stately bird as a Great Blue Heron.  When standing erect, they can be over 4 feet tall, and they have a wingspan of about 6 feet. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They nest high in the pine trees on Coal Chute Point, best seen from near the bench overlooking the Pit on the Granite Point trail – look up to the left from that area. Two to four nests up to 4 feet in diameter have been seen there every year for the past few years, some more easily seen than others. The nests are easier to spot when they are active. First we see adult bringing large twigs, then brooding the eggs, and later bringing food. The parents share these duties. The arrival of and adult with a full crop often sets off a loud chattering by the chicks, which can be heard at times from Whalers Cabin on the opposite side of the cove. When the chicks stand up in the nest it appears that you are looking at prehistoric monsters – they are really ugly! The chicks hatch from their eggs after about four weeks, and the feeding display described above lasts about 7-10 weeks until the youngsters set out on their own.

When the herons are not busy creating the next generation, they can often be seen standing on logs in Bluefish or other coves, patiently waiting for small fish to come into range. If you see this behavior, don’t blink, as the head can flash forward in an instant to grab/spear a fish.

Fortunately, their population is healthy and not at all endangered or threatened.

Western Gull

The Western Gull is the only gull seen year-round at Point Lobos and is the only one that nests there. They take four years to molt from the first year’s brown into their breeding plumage, which we usually see. They usually nest on offshore rocks for protection from predators.  The best place to look is from the observation platform on Pelican Point. The chicks are surprisingly cute! They look like fuzzy white round granite rocks with black spots. The chicks spend most of the time hunkered down in the vegetation unless a parent is there with food for them. The eggs are incubated for about four weeks, and the chicks are capable of flight at about 6-7 weeks after hatching.

Large numbers of a different gull, the Heermann’s Gull, often populate the rocks near the Whalers Cove parking lot in the winter. This gull is easily identifiable by its bright red-orange bill.

Black-crowned Night-heron

This heron is much smaller than the Great Blue, but is considered to be one of the most handsome of the heron/egret family — they appear to be dressed up in their evening wear.  Look for the long white plumes trailing from the head down their backs. But the chicks are not spared the gawky prehistoric look of the Great Blue Hereon. Point Lobos is graced with a very active nesting rookery near Bird Island, which offers visitors outstanding views of these birds, their nests, and the eggs and developing chicks. These nests are built of twigs or dry grasses on the ground, and some are easily seen from Pelican Point. After 21-26 days in the egg, young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old. There are often docents on-site with spotting scopes when the nests are active.


Three species of cormorants are seen at Point Lobos, and two of them nest there in different types of terrain.  Brandt’s Cormorants nest on the top surfaces of offshore rocks, and the slightly smaller Pelagic Cormorants nest on the sheer sides of cliffs. The two species can be difficult to tell apart, except in breeding plumage. Brandt’s sport a brilliant blue “gular pouch” under the bill, and Pelagic develop a white spot on each side of the rump.

You can find Brandt’s Cormorants nesting in a wide variety of places, most easily on Bird Island and the smaller rocks closer to Pelican Point. Their nests occupy the island very close to the Pelican Point observation platform from April through July.

Pelagic Cormorants nests can most readily be seen on the cliff face to one’s left when standing at Sea Lion Point overlooking the Sea Lion Rocks. Look at the top of the white guano streaks. If you are lucky, there may be a docent there with a scope looking at otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and other natural wonders. You may be able to talk one into giving you a view of the Pelagic Cormorant chicks in one of the perilous nests on very shallow ledges on the cliffs

The third cormorant is the Double-crested Cormorant, identifiable by the yellow on its face near the bill. It is most commonly seen in and around Whalers Cove.

Pigeon Guillemot

These birds visit Point Lobos in the spring and summer, after coming to nest in the crevices of large rocks. While not year-round residents of Point Lobos, their fantastic looks earn them a place in this article.  In the photo at right you can see that the brilliant red on the feet is repeated on the inside of the mouth, only seen when the bird is emitting its very high-pitched calls. In flight, the feet are used a ailerons (or horizontal rudders) to help them steer. These birds nest in the large rocks on Sea Lion Point and on the south side of Pelican Point. They can be seen in flight over Sea Lion Cove during much of the summer, swimming on the cove, and perching together on the rocks straight down from the Sandhill Cove trail. The large white patch on the wing will help you identify them. If you are lucky enough to still have your high-frequency hearing, listen for their squeals when you are near these places.


At Point Lobos we think of shorebirds as the ones that flock to our beaches and rocks. But the definition of “shorebird” is sufficiently flexible to include other birds, like the Osprey, that depend on the sea for food, but prefer to roost in trees.This bird used to be called a “fish hawk”, and we see them in the trees above Whalers Cove. How can a raptor catch fish? They plunge feet first into the water for fish they see in a reconnaissance flight over the water, and often come up with fish dangling from both talons.  In order to get the fish to a pleasant place to eat it or feed it to their young, they turn the fish so it flies head-first in order to minimize the headwind drag.

Brown Pelican

Most of you will recognize this distinctive bird. In the words of Ogden Nash, “A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill will hold more than his belican.” Illustrators of children’s books often take liberties with the looks of this bird, but it is truly a wonderful bird. Long strings of them glide gracefully over the ocean swells, but look quite look quite ungainly on land.  Among the fishing tactics is their dramatic plunge into the sea, falling like a dart into an area where they have viewed small fish from high above.  It’s truly a spectacular sight.

These huge birds with a nine-foot wingspan once nested at Bird Island, but have moved their nesting further south to the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara. The most likely explanation for this is that DDT in the environment has caused their eggshells to become so thin that they cannot brood the eggs without danger of smashing them. In the very early 21st century they seemed to show interest in nesting again at Point Lobos, but that didn’t last. So we have to be content with enjoying them virtually all year except when they are breeding. You can often see very large numbers of them perched on Bird Island or the rocks along the north shore. But you have to look carefully, as their brown coloring makes them blend in very well with the rocks.