See Brown Pelican, gulls, terns, shorebirds, hummingbirds, and much more at this state beach just west of Los Angeles.
By Neil Losin | Published: 2/20/2009
Most famous for the iconic Malibu Pier and as the home of Surfrider Beach, a well-known spot to catch the waves, Malibu Lagoon State Beach also offers superb coastal birding.
The cast of waterbirds changes with the seasons, and species diversity is especially high during spring and fall migrations. Vagrants can appear during any season. Since 2007, the lagoon has hosted rarities like Snow Goose, Red Phalarope, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Yellow Wagtail.
Repeat visitors will find new birding opportunities on every trip. Malibu Creek and the Pacific Ocean interact to create an ever-changing set of habitats. Some days, the lagoon is brimming with water and filled with scores of ducks. When waves open a channel to the sea, the lagoon can empty in a day, leaving mudflats that attract foraging shorebirds.
In addition, bird photographers will be happy here; birds can be quite approachable because they see so much human traffic. For birders and photographers alike, there are few better coastal birding sites within easy reach of Los Angeles. — Neil Losin
Neil Losin wrote about Burrowing Owls in our February 2011 issue. He also wrote about Franklin Canyon Park, Beverly Hills, California, Hotspots Near You No. 90, and Matheson Hammock Park, South Miami, Florida, No. 133. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Coastal marsh, sandy and rocky beach (depending on the tide), and coastal scrub.
Level. A firm, 0.1-mile trail with boardwalks leads to the beach. The beach itself is not wheelchair-accessible.
Year-round: Brown Pelican, Heermann’s, Western, and other gulls, as many as eight tern species, shorebirds, Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, and California Towhee (uncommon). Winter: Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter (offshore), Bufflehead, Western and Eared Grebes, Bushtit, Belted Kingfisher. Spring and fall migrations: Black and Ruddy Turnstones, Snowy and Black-bellied Plovers, Wandering Tattler and Surfbird (rare), Whimbrel, Long- and Short-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwit, Western Kingbird. Breeding: Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Gadwall, Black Phoebe. Vagrants possible any time.
When to go
Spring and fall best for shorebird diversity and the possibility of vagrants.
Restrooms available in parking area. Adjacent Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum display local historic artifacts.
State beach. Open year-round, 8 to sunset. No entrance fee. Pay parking available on south side of the Pacific Coast Hwy., east and west of Malibu Creek. Free street parking is available on highway but is often difficult to find on weekends.
Summer and weekends crowded. Visit at dawn on a winter weekday, however, and you may be alone with the birds. Wear waterproof shoes. Spotting scope helpful.