Birding can be as simple as watching the seagulls fly by the window while enjoying fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant.  It can also be appreciated through local art, from photography to paintings, featuring numerous bird species.  Morro Bay is an important bird area as it provides food and shelter for many aviary animals, and as a result, birds are equally as important to Morro Bay’s identity.  Next time you’re planning a trip to town, be sure to take advantage of the birding side of Morro Bay with this Morro Bay Birding 101 guide. 

Birds on beachWhy Morro Bay

Morro Bay has been identified as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.  Located along the pacific flyway Morro Bay is a major stopover and wintering location for many migratory species – tens of thousands of shorebirds spend their winter here.  Morro Bay also has a major heron rookery, is home to about 30% of California’s Western Snowy Plovers1, and Morro Rock continues to be a nesting spot for the threatened Peregrine Falcon.  According to the Audubon Society, there are four major habitats in Morro Bay: the bay, saltmarsh, woodlands, and dunes.  Each of these areas have their own distinct wildlife, specifically birds, that reside and visit.

Basic Birding Tips

Many of the most popular birding locations in town with large bird populations are easily accessible – perfect for beginners.  Here is just a quick run-through of some of the basics that you’ll want to consider if you’re new to birding:

  • Location, location, location – Before heading out you’ll want to make sure that you are heading to a location where birds are plenty, and if you’re interested in a specific species you’ll want to head to the area where they are generally found. 
  • Attire – Stick to dressing in dark and neutral clothing.  It will help you to blend into the environment and not frighten the birds.
  • Equipment – Consider bringing binoculars so that you can observe from further away.  This also helps to avoid startling the birds.
  • Sun – Position yourself with the sun at your back so that you will be able to see all the feather color variation.
  • Identification – When IDing focus on size, shape, coloring, habitat, voice, and behavior of the animals.  You can find a plethora of field guidebooks or download a birding app to help you determine each species. 

PelicansBirding Events

Whether you are a birding expert or a newcomer, you’ll enjoy these bird focused events throughout the year:

Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count – Help the Morro Coast Audubon Society to study the distribution and population numbers of Morro Bay birds every year.  This is done in conjunction with counts held around North America.  No experience necessary but registration is required.  You can also help to drive scientific efforts throughout the year by entering your own birding data online at California eBird.  

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival – A yearly ecotourism event over Martin Luther King weekend offering over 140 bird related events and a variety of vendors.  Over 200 species are usually sighted during the Festival weekend.  But sign up quickly, as the festival sells out every year.

Adventure with Nature – Free docent-led classes and workshops put on by the Central Coast State Park Association includes birding opportunities year-round. 

Self-Directed Birding Trips

Beyond organized events, there are opportunities every day to go birding in Morro Bay.  Utilize the MCAS Bird Finding Guide for the best locations to do your own birding.  Over 30 “areas” with directions, where to look, and what birds you’re likely to see at each location.  With so many diverse sites you can happily spend days observing winged wildlife.  And with a spread of easily accessible locations and those off the beaten path which are only accessible by hike, there is something to peak everyone’s interest!

If you find yourself in town during the annual Monarch Migration be sure to join the free tours hosted by Morro Bay Golf Course every year to the roosting groves for a mystical experience.  These winged creatures visit every year between December and March, and although they aren’t birds, they are a sight to see as they glide overhead between the eucalyptus trees in Morro Bay State Park.

The Rock at SunsetUnique Birding Experiences

There are more ways to enjoy birding in Morro Bay  than just walking around with binoculars.  It’s also the perfect spot to bird by water.  Rent a kayak or a boat and focus on waterfowl in the bay.  You can also head out on a whale watching trip – the marine birds like to hang out around these large mammals and enjoy their fish leftovers.

Birds can be found in Morro Bay year-round with species varying throughout the year.  However, some of the best birding takes place in the winter when crowds have thinned, and migrations are in full swing.  Now that you’ve completed Morro Bay Birding 101, it’s time to see the birds by planning your visit.  For more information visit morrobay.org or call the Visitor Center at 805-225-1633.   


1 Audubon Society