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What Are Waterbirds?

The term "waterbird" refers to bird species dependent on aquatic habitats to complete portions of their life cycles. Waterbirds can be further characterized by other non-technical terms relating to where they typically forage.

These terms are not exclusive, and vary depending where in the world they are used.

Laysan Albatross photo seabirds -- primarily feeding in open ocean; often colonial.
Bonaparte's Gull photo coastal waterbirds -- primarily utilizing the interface between land and both salt and fresh water; often colonial.
Snowy Egret photo wading birds -- principally feeding by wading in fresh or brackish waters; often colonial.
Red-Necked Grebe photo marshbirds -- often secretive, feeding in primarily fresh waters
The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan focuses on seabirds, coastal waterbirds, wading birds, and marshbirds (View Species List). Other aquatic birds are known by these terms:
White-Crowned Plover photo shorebirds-- typically found along shorelines of oceans, rivers, and lakes, commonly characterized by long bills, legs, and toes.
Canvasback photo waterfowl-- ducks, geese and swans, many of which are traditionally harvested.

In North America, separate initiatives exist for shorebirds and waterfowl. You can find out more about the various bird initiatives in North America at the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) website. Outside of North America, the term "waterbirds" usually refers to all aquatic bird species (in keeping with the terminology of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands).




Last Updated November 30, 2007
U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) is supporting the Waterbird Conservation for the Americas Home Page as part of its contribution to North American Waterbird Conservation Plan (NAWCP). It is being served by the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Information provided in this site does not necessarily have the endorsement of the USGS.