Shorebirds are a division of birds that includes sandpipers, plovers, curlews, and related birds. As a rule these birds are not regarded as seabirds, because they feed and roost on the coast, and only wade to the water-usually bays or inland shores, not the ocean. However, two small species, called phalaropes, nest on the Arctic tundra but spend the rest of the year at sea at lower latitudes.
Many feed in brackish estuaries where rivers enter the sea. But many species will migrate over the ocean and rest on the sea, most quite near shore. Particular ducks feed on mollusks and are found regularly in nearshore waters-especially near rocky shores or headlands.
There is truly no species known as a”sea gull.” Gulls happen coastally, but many species live in inland locations. Some gulls nest in the Arctic or inland lakes and winter along the coast. Most gulls will need to drink fresh water regularly, so are rarely found more than 20 miles offshore. Kittiwakes and Sabine’s gulls are species which spend the majority of the year at sea.
Terns are closely related to gulls and occupy the same habitats. Many dive from the air into the nearshore waters for fish. Some terns spend most of their lives far at sea.
Also associated with gulls are a group of seabirds called jaegers that breed on the Arctic tundra but spend the rest of the year far at sea. Skuas are similar, breeding in either Arctic or Antarctic lands. These birds are klepto-parasitic, stealing other seabird’s food.
Cormorants, pelicans, gannets, and allies live mostly along coastlines. Several members, including frigate birds and tropic birds are found far to sea.
Loons and grebes are mostly fresh water divers. Many spend the non-breeding season along the coast, either in near shore ocean waters or bays and estuaries.
Found only in the southern hemisphere, flightless penguins seem more at home in the sea than on land.
Auks, murres, and puffins are a northern hemisphere group of seabirds that nest on sea cliffs or offshore rocks. They feed exclusively from the sea, eating fish or krill.
Albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels spend most of their lives at sea, far from land. They have the ability to drink sea water. They rest and sleep on the ocean as well as obtain all their food from the sea. They return to land only to nest, usually in colonies on isolated islands from any predators. These seabirds are often called pelagic birds.
Bird watchers wanting to see seabirds, particularly pelagic seabirds, will need to attend special’pelagic trips’ to get offshore where these birds spend most of the year.