Wildlife | Mission Bay Parks

The Mission Bay Parks System is home to an abundance of wildlife, particularly along the riparian zones of the Mission Creek shoreline. In this area, park visitors can spot a wealth of birds and other animals that thrive in the nutrient-rich mud and bay waters. Mission Creek is linked directly to San Francisco Bay.

The tides flow twice a day. Many of the animals that live in the San Francisco Bay venture up Mission Creek to visit the calm, nutrient-rich waters. The Mission Creek Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) organization spearheaded by local residents, is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the tidal community at Mission Creek.

Wildlife on display

One of the best locations for wildlife viewing in Mission Creek Park is the 5th Street Overlook, which can be reached from Berry and 5th Streets. Park Management does not allow direct pedestrian or dog access on the shorelines to protect the wildlife in the Creek and ensure the safety of park visitors by keeping them off of the slippery rip rap. From the 5th Street Overlook, park visitors may notice ripples in the water.

Just beneath the surface, there are often schools of fish swimming. There may even be a cormorant or sea lion in pursuit! A wide array of sea creatures can be spotted swimming in Mission Creek, including:

  • | California sea lions
  • | Bat rays
  • | Schools of Anchovies
  • | Sardines
  • | Herring
  • | Shiner Surfperch
  • | Dungeness Crab

This makes Mission Creek a prime fishing area for many birds, and a great place to bird watch.

Brown pelican | Mission Bay Parks
Brown pelican from the 4th Street Bridge in Mission Bay Parks | Photo—Bettina Cohen

Abundance for birders

Mission Creek is home to a thriving community of birds and a favored urban location for local bird watchers.

Bird watchers can look for great blue herons, western grebes, buffleheads, bushtits, hummingbirds, white-crowned sparrows, American robins, northern mockingbirds, snowy egrets, double-crested cormorants, and many more species. Incredibly, this bountiful community of birds can be found in the heart of a formerly industrial zone of San Francisco!

Numerous species of birds nest around Mission Creek with many year-round residents and seasonal migrants that return faithfully each year. Some of these species include:

  • | Brown pelican
  • | Canada goose
  • | Black-crowned night heron
  • | Yellow-rumped warbler
  • | Goldfinch
  • | Belted kingfisher

The white-crowned sparrow is the most abundant bird on the north bank of Mission Creek. Golden-crowned sparrows are also seen in smaller numbers and they usually gather with white-crowned sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrow | Mission Bay Parks
White-crowned Sparrow in Mission Bay Parks | Photo—Bettina Cohen

Great Egret

The Great Egret is a solitary visitor to Mission Creek that has appeared in past winter seasons just in time to be counted for the Great Backyard Bird Count. While the snowy egrets are common year-round in Mission Creek, sightings of this beauty are much more infrequent.

Great Egret | Mission Bay Parks
Great Egret along Mission Creek | Photo—Bettina Cohen

Snowy Egret

The snowy egret, a small white heron, can often be spotted along the rip rap and pilings on the Mission Creek shoreline. In the past, this bird’s beautiful plumes were used in women’s hats and overhunting led to dangerously low population levels. The population has since recovered now that the snowy egret is protected under the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Snowy Egret | Mission Bay Parks

Park visitors will easily recognize the snowy egret. Typically 24 inches in stature, this radiant white bird has a slim black bill and long black legs with yellow feet. These birds eat mostly aquatic fare, including fish, frogs, worms, crustaceans, and insects. Snowy egrets like to stalk their prey in shallow, tidal waters, making Mission Creek Park a perfect location for them.

Double-crested Cormorant

One of the most distinctive birds to call Mission Creek home is the double-crested Cormorant. This relative of frigate birds and boobies is a black fishing bird. Upon closer inspection, these birds display some spectacularly colored details. They have yellow-orange skin on their face and throats, aquamarine eyes, and a bright blue interior mouth.

Double-crested Cormorants | Mission Bay Parks

Cormorants are built to fish. They have solid, heavy bones that help to build momentum on dives to catch small fish. Their feathers have less preen oil than other birds, which makes it easier for cormorants to glide underwater with extreme speed and agility when seeking their prey.

Unlike ducks and other waterfowl, their feathers soak up water rather than shedding it. As a result, cormorants can frequently be spotted along the pilings and shoreline of Mission Creek with their wings spread out in the sun to dry.

See what you’ve been missing

Come on out to Mission Bay Parks to share this hidden gem in San Francisco with all of the wildlife that thrives here every day. The parks are open from sunrise to 10 pm every day. And there’s no better place to see all that the SF Bay has to offer.

Do you bird watch in Mission Bay Parks? Share your experience. We look forward to hearing from you!

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