So whilst you’re ambling across the sands and mudflats this season, what might possibly come along? Perchance it is a sea bird, which is a bird that is rarely viewed because its spends most of its days gliding along the air currents out in the middle of the ocean.
If you are an avid bird-watcher, sea birds are most probably more of an event than a wading bird or a shore bird, which are birds that are frequently seen in beach areas. Sea birds, on the other hand, tend to spend there time in places where humans don’t normally frequent. Not all sea birds of course, but generally speaking, you may want to have your binoculars handy for these particular birds.
These pelagic aviators encompass a very broad category indeed, and depending on your location you may see some, or all, of the following birds through your lens.
The largest type of pelagic birds, the albatross really earns its air miles. Well-known for their incredible wing span and effortless ability to glide through the sky eating up the acres, an albatross may stay airborne for many hours with no apparent fatigue.
The biggest of the albatrosses is the great albatross, with a wingspan of twelve feet (3.7 metres).
Reproduction is a long winded business, with some albatrosses only breeding every two years and not beginning until relatively late on in life.
It can take a year to go from egg to fledgling and since clutch sizes are singletons only, not a lot of albatrosses are born compared to other bird species. Some albatross breeds are actually dying out and all of them are classed as being endangered.
Of course, the cause for their endangerment is not simply a low birth rate but also all the things that pose a risk to them and unfortunately, there are many perils.
Long line fishing (where the birds swallow the line with the bait) the introduction of predators to a breeding site or simply pollution have all played a part in the problems albatrosses are facing.
If other animals don’t kill the albatrosses, sometimes their environment does, with habitation being destroyed for other species and other purposes.
Disease also has a hand in the woes that they face.
Out of twenty two albatross types all of them are on a list of being of some sort of concern, with three critically endangered.
Although some varieties live longer still, most albatrosses lifespan is about thirty years.
=> Click here to read our featured article, “Amsterdam Albatross – World’s Rarest Seabird”
Often compared to a penguin, the auk does indeed have several superficial similarities.
They are both black and white in color and they both have a tendency to waddle when walking. Their feeding styles are also similar (wing propelled diving). It would appear that they share the same clumsiness in locomotion on land and their adeptness for swimming with penguins as well.
However, auks are not incapable of flight (although the now extinct great auk was unable to fly). Their flight is only achieved through very rapid flapping of their rather short wings.
Generally, you will have to look out to sea to spot an auk, mainly they do not come ashore except to breed, with some exceptions and despite their similarities, they are not closely related to penguins.
=> Click here to read our featured article, “Least And Cassin’s Auklet”
These are very large seabirds who are known for their “dart” into the water, from great heights, in order to ensnare their prey.
They may be seen around the southern end of North America including along the Florida keys. Follow the Pacific ocean down towards the coast of Mexico and you may catch a sight of some of them.
=> Click here to read our featured article, “Blue-Footed Boobies – Daddy Needs A New Pair Of Shoes”
A medium to large,fish eating, pelagic bird. These birds are usually dark in plumage and are excellent swimmers and divers. The cormorant have six species operating in North America today which can be seen.
These include the double crested cormorant, which is the most populous and lives in both fresh and seawater along Northern Quebec and Alaska.
Further south is the neotropic cormorant which can be found as far down as Texas.
This is a tropical species and only one variant, the magnificent frigatebird, has been recognized within North America.
It can be seen in Florida, Brazil, Mexico and Ecuador.
This bird is approximately forty inches high and the male has a distinctive red gular sac (an area below the beak) which he inflates to attract the opposite sex.
=> Click here to read our full-length “Frigatebird FAQ” article
Similar to a gull, this pelagic bird winters off North America’s west coast and breeds in arctic Canada and the Bering sea islands.
They reach New England and California on the Pacific coast.
The northern gannet is the one most likely to be spotted in North America.
It breeds largely around the British Isles but immature gannets migrate further away from home than more mature birds and can be seen as far south as Ecuador.
Adult birds are mainly white with dark tipped wings.
A migratory bird, these are relatively small and may well be spotted in flight (unless they are the two types that are actually flightless)!
When in their breeding plumage, these are very distinctive looking birds with chestnut colored markings.
Despite being commonly known as seagulls, most gull species, although being seabirds actually spend most of their time inland or around the coast. The exception to this is the kittiwake gull.
North America is home to about twenty eight gull species and have the same general shape – heavy body, long wings and a stout bill. Their mewing cry has been likened to a cats meow and they are still known as ‘mews’ in some languages.
A lifespan of twenty years or more is not uncommon for many species and the oldest recorded herring gull lived for forty nine years.
Generally they breed only once a year with a clutch size of three eggs, although this may be fewer for some of the smaller species.
The smallest of the species is the little gull at only eleven inches tall and the largest is the great black backed gull at thirty inches.
This migratory species can be seen pretty much everywhere in the coast and beyond.
=> Click here to read our full-length article, “Sea Gulls – Nature’s Boldest Bird?”
Part of the tern family, the two types of noddy that can be seen in North America today are the brown noddy and the black noddy.
The brown noddy is a tropical seabird and larger than the black noddy and can be seen on the east Atlantic coast where the black noddy may be spotted along the north of the Southern American coast.
=> Click here to read our full-length article, “Nature’s Winged Simpletons – The Black Noddy Tern”
These are some of the biggest birds in the world with very long bills and a type of pouch which forms from their tongue muscles, for eating large fish.
Even the smallest of the species weighs up to six pounds (the brown pelican) whereas the largest is a huge thirty three pounds and six foot in length (the Dalmation pelican).
Their lifespan is up to twenty five years on average and it is the American white pelican, living in freshwaters of North America or the brown pelican dwelling along the coast which is most likely to be spotted on the beach.
=> Click here to read our full-length article, “Brown Pelican – Dive Bomb Expert”
At least thirteen types of this tubenose bird are to be seen around North America today.
Their long wings are well suited to the near constant flying they do and can be spotted gliding over the seas.
This tubenose pelagic bird are well known for being long lived. The oldest recorded age being fifty five years!
There are more than thirty species of these seabirds, many of whom clock up some massive air miles every season.
The sooty shearwater does around 40000 miles each year!
This bird lays its eggs on sandy beaches, generally three to six at a time.
It is tropical and sub tropical and can be seen all over the Americas.
It is distinctive for having a lower mandible larger than the top one.
A predatory seabird which can kill birds as big as shearwaters.
Two types are to be found in North America, the great skua which is brown and well built, may be seen out at sea and the south polar skua found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Encompassing the noddies, there are approximately seventeen species of terns in North America at the moment.
These birds are swift and agile and pierce their prey with their sharp pointy bills.
Spending most of their lives out at sea, except when breeding or raising their young, these are a mainly pelagic bird and recognizable by their long tail feathers.
The red-billed tropicbird is the most populous of these, which lives in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.