What is a
Seabirds do not comprise a taxonomic or evolutionary group of bird. Some
a seabird to be any bird they have to go out on a boat trip to see. In
this discussion, seabirds are birds that spend most of their life
feeding and living on the open ocean coming to land only to breed. The
Wandering Albatross spends 95% of its life at sea.
Despite a diverse evolution, seabirds share some similar characteristics.
All birds evolved from land based animals and all seabirds must come to
land to produce their young.
Many seabirds live in colonies near the sea. A seabird colony can be
defined as a group of birds nesting in close proximity and finding their
food outside the breeding area. The colony may consist of 10 pairs along
a cliff ledge or thousands of pairs of birds in one area.
The picture above shows a large colony of Gannets nesting on the north
island of New Zealand. Some of the birds that typically live in colonies
mate for life and have elaborate mating rituals. Seabirds usually return
to the natal site to breed and raise their young.
Groups of Birds Are Generally Included?
Penguins are seabirds who have given up the ability to fly in favor of
swimming and diving to
great depths. With the exception of the Galapagos Penguin they live and
breed in the
southern hemisphere although it is not true that they only live where it
is very cold.
Alcids are seabirds who both fly and swim with their wings. Alcids are
now confined to the northern hemisphere.
Tubenoses or Petrels - Order Procellariformes
This group is distinguished by having their nostrils enclosed in tubes
on their bill.
Four families of
seabirds make up the order:
Procellariiade ( Fulmars, typical petrels, prions, shearwaters)
Pelecanoididae ( Diving-petrels).
Pelicans and Boobies - Order Pelecaniformes
The Pelecaniformes include: Gannets, Pelicans, boobies, Tropicbirds,
Cormorant, and Frigatebirds. Some of these birds are of great interest
to pelagic birders while others are more commonly viewed and studied
Skuas and Jaegers Family Laridae
In the same family as the gulls and terns, the skuas and jaegers are
colonial breeders and are fiercely territorial. The northern hemisphere
jaegers breed on the arctic tundra and lay two eggs on the ground.
Gulls, Terns Family Laridae
Gulls and terns are also considered seabirds although many gulls have
been lured inland and some live out thei lives on large bodies of fresh
water like the Great Lakes. This web page will include two gulls of
special interest to pelagic birders and two terns usually seen
on pelagic trips.
Ducks, Loons, Grebes
Some of the ducks commonly called seaducks must also be mentioned and
some authors include loons and grebes.
Phalaropes are actually shorebirds Family Charadriidae. Two birds: Red
Phalarope, and Red-necked Phalarope breed on the tundra and winter on
the open ocean usually close to shore. Since these birds are usually
seen on pelagic trips they are included in this web page.
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