The Three Types Of Beach Birds

bird watching

You might not have even considered the gentle art of birdwatching as something to be specifically associated with the beach, until one day you suddenly found yourself standing there on the shore, staring out to sea, trying to identify just whatever-it-is-called swooping down from a lofty place.  

If you have ever found yourself in this situation, then a potential birder you might just be!

Red-legged Kittiwake

The next thing you know, you have brought a pair of great birding binoculars with you on your vacation, to look more closely at those birds that seem to be congregating just beyond the reach of what your eye can discern.  

A-ha!  A red-legged kittiwake perched on a log at the end of a bluff.  

boobie bird

Bird watching at the beach actually goes together quite nicely, as the beach is such a relaxing place to be, and you’ll find all types of birds there, just living out their feathery lives in a way that most humans can only dream of doing…  lounging all day, eating fresh food, and soaring high in the air. Yes, birds do, of course, have their own hardships to face, but for many birds of the sea, life is pretty grand when you stop to think about it.  You know for a fact that the blue-footed boobie is certainly not thinking about doing a powerpoint presentation on Monday morning.

Also, there aren’t many hobbies where the main activity requires total silence and staring out into space.  In the hustle and bustle of modern life, a lot of people find it comforting to take time out and simply observe.  

Birding doesn’t have to cost a lot either, with a pair of good all-round birding binoculars, some decent hiking shoes, and maybe a notebook may be all that you need to get started.

So, if you think you may be interested in learning more about the birds that seem to exalt in the sand and surf  just as much as you and I do, then do read on!  

Types Of Beach Birds

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER

Yes indeed, the beach is an excellent place to see birds of all shapes and sizes, but there are three main types of birds to look out for – sea birds, shore birds, and waders.  More on them all shortly…

When you’re at the beach, you need to sometimes wait patiently to see anything worth seeing, as many of the more hard-to-spot birds are often further out to sea, or sometimes, not visible at all to the naked eye.  

This doesn’t mean you’ll never see certain birds, although it is more rare to spot the ones that are out flying over the ocean.  In terms of what you will see, most bird watching enthusiasts know that day to day, bird watching can be full of surprises.

Oh, and if you’re ever lonely, don’t worry, because the common sea gull doesn’t usually wait for people to find it – they will find you, and ESPECIALLY if you have french fries on hand!

Now, let us find out a little bit more about these three different types of beach birds, starting with sea birds. 

Sea Birds

tropicbird beach

Sea birds are birds that spend most of their life at sea, or sometimes in transit between two different continents.  Some of these birds are out there on the high seas for dietary reasons, while others are essentially migrating, eventually reaching that tiny island that humans have never been to, in the middle of the ocean where they throw a full on avian party!

Some sea birds are practically hollow-boned, and can float along the air currents for their entire lives, even sometimes catching some Z’s in the air!  For these types of birds, a prolonged blink can constitute a power nap, and then give them the energy they need to fly another thousand miles.  Yep, sea birds are definitely a special kind of bird, and there are plenty of them as well.

Taking Spock’s Advice – Sea Birds Tend To “Live Long And Prosper”

skimmer bird beach

One other thing that sets the pelagic or sea-faring birds apart from their land-loving cousins is their relative longevity.  Depending on the species, seabirds can expect to live between twenty and sixty years!  Oh my word, that’s a long lifespan for a bird!

Unlike other types of birds, they breed relatively late in life, and are more likely to stick to the same partner, time and again.

Some species do actually mate for life.  Even within specific breeds things can differ though, some gulls (the black legged kittiwake) were apparently more loyal to their breeding ground, than their partners!

Amsterdam albatross, Amsterdam Island, Indian Ocean

Generally though, both parties seem to commit to each other, although “divorces” have been known to occur through established couplings – just like humans!

The fathers tend to play a serious role in the upbringing of the chicks, and compared to other types of birds, they have far fewer chicks in general.

Unsurprisingly, the diet of seabirds consists largely of fish and other marine life.

One of the reasons for the endangerment of sea birds, is the presence of rubbish and pollutants in the sea, which wash up on the shores and end up inside the gullets of some of these birds.  Note to humans on behalf of all sea birds: get your act together!  At least now there are edible six pack rings, which may save a few lives.

Up next…

Shore Birds

American Avocet at Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, California, USA

If these were people, they would probably be double agents, as they are the masters of disguise, and as such, shore birds are quite difficult for the general viewer to spot and categorize correctly.

Because shore birds’ plumage changes so much from season to season, even expert twitchers (UK version of bird watchers) can have a hard time telling just what it is that they are looking at sometimes.

american woodcock

Depending on the time of year that you are looking, a shorebird might be dressed in its party gear for attracting the opposite sex, or in its more workaday browns and greys for the winter.  Hey, when you don’t wear clothes, you’ve gotta make up for it somehow!

Still, you won’t get bored whilst on the lookout for shore birds this summer, as there are at least fifty species in North America alone. They range in size from a dinky six inches, to the considerable twenty four inches of the long billed curlew.

Keep an eye out as you go about the beaches, mudflats, marshes and other wetlands.  These fascinating creatures are some of the world’s most well traveled migrants taking in the Arctic, North and South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, Africa and Pacific Islands every year.

And finally…

Wading Birds

american bittern bird

Wading birds aka waders, as they may be known, are often judged to be a subspecies of shore birds. However, they also merit a mention in their own right.

Just because these birds are caught in between the high flying sea birds, and the more affable shore bird, doesn’t mean that wading birds are any less impressive.  Why, many of the superstars of the avian world belong to this category, as it includes many long-legged and larger specimens.  The term “wading birds” can encompass storks, herons and other long legged birds likes ibises, flamingos, spoonbills, cranes and rails.  They are characterized by their large bills and long necks, and, of course, their love for wading in the water, and being the scourge of small fish everywhere.

It’s not just the beach where you may spot these birds, they are even more likely in the shallow waters of ponds, marshes, mudflats and other reedy places.  So, if you like a good roadtrip, maybe it’s time to grab your binoculars and hit up that beach – or bog!

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