Coastal Sea Birds
Gulls, terns, pelicans, and the Black Skimmer are regulars along our coast. They are commonly seen flying just offshore, diving and swimming in the water and catching fish. They also hobnob in groups along the sand or perch on the ends of piers and docks.
Forester's Terns © Harry Purcell, Black Skimmer
and Brown Pelican © Dean McCallum
Gulls and Terns
Gulls are scavengers, eating almost anything they find. Terns, with their long, pointed wings and more sharply pointed bills, are divers and eat fish. These acrobatic flyers hover over the water, peering down in search of the small fish. Watch as a tern dives and quickly surfaces with a fish in its bill.
Our most common gull, the Laughing Gull, is easily identified by its black head (in summer), slate gray wings, and white body and tail. Juvenile birds are overall brownish-gray. These gulls are opportunistic feeders, robbing other birds of their catch as well as stealing from a tourist’s picnic and laughing loudly as if having fun in doing so.
The Least Tern is our smallest tern. The adult in breeding plumage has a yellow bill and white forehead. These birds are easily seen during nesting season, flying over the water, hovering, diving, and catching a fish to take back to feed their chicks.
A sleek seabird, the Black Skimmer has a unique way to catch fish. With its wings held high, the bird glides (skims) just inches above the water, slicing the surface with the knife-like lower part of its bill capturing small fish as it flies. Early evening is a good time to watch for skimmers feeding just off the shore’s edge.
Our largest coastal seabird, the Brown Pelican is our iconic beach bird with its massive bill and huge, expandable throat pouch. Pelicans can often be seen diving headlong into the water for fish or on fishing piers waiting for handouts. Pelicans may appear awkward on land, but they are graceful in flight, flying either alone or in small groups in V patterns.
Brown Pelican Conservation
Brown Pelicans were slaughtered by the thousands during the early 1900s. The birds were mostly killed by fishermen, who claimed pelicans were decimating commercial fisheries. Use of pesticides in the 1940s, particularly DDT, further decreased the population. In 1970, the Brown Pelican was listed as a Federally Endangered Species. After DDT was banned in 1972, the Brown Pelican recovered rapidly and the Atlantic Coast population was delisted in 1985, though the Gulf Coast population is still listed as endangered.