Information on Coast Bird Identification

Information on Coast Bird Identification
Some of the greatest concentrations of avian life occur on the world's ocean coasts. These dramatic boundaries between land and sea attract birds because of abundant food, inaccessible nesting and roosting sites in the form of seacliffs and offshore islands, and often strong breezes. While the array of species can be bewildering, anyone with an interest in wildlife will appreciate the seashore's richness. It's one place, too, where birds are rarely tough to spot.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Step 1
Look for birds of stout body, long tapered bills and legs, and frenetic habits along the surf zone: These are characteristics of the shorebirds, which in the United States and Canada includes some five families. They are active foragers, snatching small creatures from sand and water with their dainty beaks. Plovers, oystercatchers and sandpipers are examples.
Step 2
Identify seabirds like gulls, albatross, petrels and shearwaters by some general shared traits: subdued, frequently two-toned (countershaded) coloration; sharp, often powerful beaks; long, slender and tapered wings; and hard cries. Gulls (notoriously hard to identify to species) and terns are common coastal residents, but some seabirds, like the enormous albatrosses, are chiefly pelagic, or open-ocean, fliers. Some more unique genera and families of oceanic birds, like pelicans and penguins, are also usually grouped with seabirds.
Step 3
Look for waterfowl like ducks and geese, which, while commonly associated with freshwater, also frequent ocean coasts, especially during migration. There are also species of sea duck, like the Steller's eider and long-tailed duck, that are specially adapted to marine life.
Step 4
You'll see yet more birds on coasts that don't neatly fit into massively broad categories. Great blue herons don't restrict themselves to North American lakes, marshes, and rivers, for example; they routinely patrol seashores in search of anything they can cram down their formidable beaks. Ospreys -- striking, fish-eating raptors -- often hunt and nest on coasts. Loons typically winter in near-shore waters.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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