American Oceans

Types of Seabirds From Around the World

If you’ve ever been to the beach or even remotely near the sea, chances are you’ve come across sea birds.

a flock of gannets on a rock by the sea

Maybe you’ve seen gulls squawking and fighting each other for food or a sleek black cormorant gliding across the water. 

Keep reading this guide to discover more about different types of seabirds. We’ll go over birds you can keep your eye out for the next time you’re on the coast. 

What Is a Seabird?

two albatross birds nesting

Sea birds are birds that spend their life in a marine environment. Because of this, they have adapted to living and feeding on the water.

Sea birds tend to have dense, waterproof feathers and layers of fat to protect them from the cold. Webbed or partially webbed feet help them swim and fish. 

These birds can be either coastal, living on the shore, or pelagic, meaning they spend most of their time in the open ocean.

Sea birds tend to live longer, breed later, and have fewer offspring than other birds. 


laysan albatross

Albatrosses reach 22 pounds with a wingspan from 6.5 to 11 feet. They can stay in the air for hours and only go to land during the breeding season. The albatross eats mostly squid and fish. Humans have hunted them for their meat and feathers. 


king penguin species with orange-colored ear patches

With flippers, penguins swim and dive for fish, crabs, and shrimp. They have black heads and bodies with white bellies. 

Penguins range from 15 inches to 3 ½ feet and weigh between two and 80 pounds. They can live up to 20 years. Their main predators are seals and killer whales


a seagull in the port of LA

Gulls have large bodies, hooked bills, webbed feet, brown, gray, black, or white feathers, and a white head. They eat fish and are known scavengers. Main predators include raccoons, cats, and birds of prey. 


arctic tern v-shaped tail characteristics

The arctic tern has long wings and a forked tail. They are grey with black caps. They hover and slowly circle while hunting for fish and crustaceans. Highly migratory, they fly from the northern seas to summer in Antarctica

Terns range from eight to 22 inches long and can live up to 30 years. 


a blue footed booby eating a fish and walking

Boobies have large, brightly colored webbed feet for swimming and mating. They have white plumage and brown, gray, or black feathers. 

Boobies have a wingspan that can reach five feet. They are between 25 to 36 inches tall, weigh between two and four pounds, and can live up to 17 years. 


a puffin perched on a rock

Puffins are small birds with white and black coloring, similar to penguins, but they have brightly patterned beaks and orange webbed feet and are excellent flyers, reaching speeds of up to 50mph over short distances. Puffins eat a variety of fish. Their biggest predators are gulls and foxes.


a cormorant sunning itself on a piling

Cormorants are glossy black or dark brown with long necks and long hooked bills. They are drawn to where there is a lot of fish and can annoy fishermen. Smart when it comes to food, they can even use rocks to help them open mollusks. 


a small auk perched on a rock

Only two auk species are left in existence, the lesser auk and the little auk. They have black heads and bodies with white bellies, similar to penguins. They are pelagic and only come to land to breed. With a wingspan between one to two feet, they swim over the ocean hunting for fish, shrimp, and squid


brown pelican spread its wingspan length

Pelicans are famous for the pouches that hang from their long bills. They also have webbed feet, short legs, a long, curving neck, and short, square tails. This large bird can reach up to 33 pounds. They typically eat fish, crabs, and turtles. 


a tropicbird soaring above the ocean

Tropicbirds, as their name suggests, make their home near tropical waters. The red tailed tropicbird has brilliant long tail feathers, white plumage, distinct markings around its eyes, and a yellow or red bill, like the red billed tropicbird. Their favorite foods are fish and squid.


a beuatiful gannet seabird perched on a rock

The cape gannet is known for its buff tinged head, white plumage, and black wingtips. They have a pointed bill and dark, webbed feet. They are diving birds that feed on fish and squid. Their typical life span is around 17 years. 


magnificent frigatebird with distinctive red throats

Frigatebirds have long bills, forked tails, and black feathers. The males have a red pouch they inflate to catch the eye of potential mates during the breeding season. They can fly for extended periods. While they can reach up to 4.2 pounds, they have the largest wingspan-to-size ratio of any bird. 


a fulmar seabird flying above water

With their white and grey plumage, fulmars look like gulls except they have tube noses. They were called “foul ghouls” by the Norse because of the smelly stomach oil they excrete for defense and nutritional purposes. This pelagic bird eats fish, squid, jellyfish, and carrion. 


common murre

Murres are related to auks and puffins and have similar white and black coloring. They also have narrow wings and thin bills. They can swim to depths of 100 feet in search of the fish, squid, and octopus that make up their diet. They only weigh about two pounds and are about 15 to 18 inches. 


a shearwater flying above the sea

In general, shearwaters have long wings. Their name comes from holding themselves stiff and angular above the water. Because there are over 30 species, other details such as size, coloring, and lifespan vary wildly. 


a petrel seabird flying over the water

Storm petrels have short wings, long legs, and square tails. Like most seabirds, they have dark backs and heads with lighter bodies that help camouflage them from the fish and crustaceans they eat.

Storm petrels are monogamous and can live up to 30 years. 

Seabird Threats

Most of the threats sea birds face are due to human causes. Oil spills and other types of pollution affect the waters, their food sources, and the feathers that help keep them warm and dry. 

Sea birds also face dangers from being caught in nets as by-catch, from having their prey overfished, and from habitat destruction, which can wipe out their nests and ability to breed. 

The rising and warming oceans due to climate changes threaten their nests and food sources and can also create storms they are not adapted to survive. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about seabirds answered!

Which is the most common seabird?

Gulls or seagulls are the most common seabird. They are not afraid of people and will often venture into cities. You know you’re nearing the beach when you hear their squawking call. 

What are common beach birds?

Sanderlings or sandpipers are small gray and white seabirds with long legs and long thin bills. Sanderlings are the most widespread seabirds and can live in temperate or tropical

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