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American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Shorelines in North and South America.

Habitat:  Sandy and pebbly beaches, mudflats, and borders of salt marshes.

Similar Species: Black skimmer.

Description: A large shorebird with black head, black/brown wings and back, and a white underbelly. It has a large white stripe on its wings, a distinct large orange bill, and stout, dull pink legs.

Size: Length: 16-17” Wingspan: 28-36” Weight: 400-700g

Food: Feeds on shellfish and other marine invertebrates.

Breeding:  Breeds along the coasts of California and Massachusetts southward. Usually nests on high sandy areas such as dunes. Scrapes out five areas, lines them with shells or pebbles, and chooses one nest to lay its one or two tan, speckled eggs in.

Predators:  Sharks, wild boars and other mammals, and large birds of prey.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by the IUCN although it is a species of concern in several coastal states. States with low tidal ranges have less feeding grounds exposed during the low tide.

Interesting Facts: The American oystercatcher uses its long bill to catch shellfish unsuspecting, grabbing them before they can close up.

On the Coast: The coast of Georgia is home to many oystercatchers because of its large tidal range of seven to nine feet. At low tide, oyster beds are exposed for the oystercatcher to search for food. Many other states along the East do not have plentiful feeding grounds for these birds because of their small tidal range.

American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from British Columbia south to northern California, Utah, and Manitoba, and along Texas. White pelicans spend their winters in Central California, Florida, and Georgia, south to Panama.

Habitat: Forages amongst inland marshes, lakes, and ponds. During non-breeding times it favors warm coastal or estuarine environments.

Similar Species: Brown pelican.

Description:  Large white bird with black tips on its wings. During breeding season, it has a yellow crest on its head.

Size: Length: 50-65” Wingspan: 96-114” Weight: 4500-9000g

Food: Feeds mainly on fish. It will also eat salamanders, tadpoles, and crayfish.

Breeding: Lays up to six whitish eggs on a low mound of earth and debris on a marshy island.

Predators:  Humans are the main predator of American white pelicans. Eggs and chicks will fall prey to gulls.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN. It is a species of concern in California, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and British Columbia due to habitat loss and human interference.

Interesting Facts: American white pelicans often catch fish cooperatively by driving their prey into shallow waters by beating their wings. They take in both water and fish and then hold their bills vertically to drain the water before swallowing their prey.

On the Coast: The American white pelican spends its winter months along the coast of Georgia. These graceful birds can be seen soaring in a line along the shore or floating on the surface of the water.


Anhinga anhinga

Range/Geographical Distribution: Southeast United States south to Argentina

Habitat: Lives and breeds near shallow, slow-moving bodies of freshwater.

Similar Species:  Double-crested cormorant.

Description:  A large, dark water bird with a long neck, silver wings, a long tail, and a pointed bill.  Males are black-bodied and females have a buff neck and breast. Juveniles are brownish.

Size: Length:  29-37” Wingspan:  43” Weight: 1325-1350g

Food: Swims under water and spears fish, also will consume small crustaceans and other invertebrates.

Breeding:  Nests in colonies with other water birds such as ibis, storks, and egrets.  Lays pale bluish eggs on a bulky platform of sticks.

Predators:  Alligators, crocodiles, ravens, and hawks.

Conservation Status: The anhinga is listed as least concern by IUCN but is threatened by entanglement in fishing line.

Interesting Facts:  The anhinga may be seen soaring overhead without flapping its wings, much like a turkey vulture, and can travel long distances like this.

On the Coast:  Anhingas can be found along the Georgia Coast near freshwater.  They often perch above the water with their wings outstretched, drying.

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to California, Great Lakes, Virginia, Arizona, Gulf Coast, Florida, and Georgia.

Habitat: Typically forested areas near lakes, rivers, marshes, and seacoasts. 

Similar Species:  Osprey. 

Description:  Large blackish eagle with a white head and tail and a heavy yellow bill. 

Size: Length: 28-38” Wingspan: 80” Weight: 3000-6300g

Food: Fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, invertebrates including crabs, and mammals including rabbits and muskrats.

Breeding:  Builds very large nests made of sticks laid high in treetops and sometimes on cliffs. Produces three or four white eggs.

Predators:  The bald eagle is considered an apex predator, having no natural predators.

Conservation Status: In the early 1900s, the bald eagle was rare. It was placed on the Endangered Species list in1978 due to excessive trapping, shooting, and poisoning from DDT. By the 1990’s, breeding populations could be found throughout most of North America. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List.

Interesting Facts: Juvenile bald eagles spend the first four years of their lives in nomadic exploration, often traveling hundreds of miles each day.

On the Coast: Georgia’s bald eagle population is on the rise with nests in 1/3 of the 159 counties. Georgia’s coast accounts for most of the nests in the state.

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger

Range/Geographical Distribution:  Throughout the Americas from the United States south through Mexico and Central America and including much of South America.

Habitat: Usually seen along open sandy beaches and occasionally in saltmarshes. 

Similar Species:  American oystercatcher. 

Description:  A medium-sized, gull-like bird with a black back and white underside.  Feet are orange, bill is orange and black with lower mandible larger than upper mandible.  Immatures are a speckled brown. 

Size: Length: 15-20” Wingspan: 44” Weight: 200-450g

Food: Small fish and crustaceans.

Breeding:  Nests colonially with gulls and terns.  Lays four black-spotted pale cream eggs in a sandy scrape on beaches, on islands, and in saltmarshes.

Predators:  Nest predators include gulls, raccoons, dogs, cats, and rats.

Conservation Status: The black skimmer is listed as least concern by IUCN but is on several state lists including endangered in New Jersey and special concern in North Carolina and Florida.  Threats to these birds include loss of nesting habitat and egg predation by loose dogs.

Interesting Facts: Black skimmers have narrow vertical pupils, which is rare in birds.  This trait is thought to help reduce the glare on the surface of water and sand.

On the Coast:  The black skimmer can be seen flying in large flocks along Tybee beach.  It also flies low to the water with its bill open “skimming” along the surface for fish.

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Texas and Arkansas north and east to New Jersey and south to Florida.

Habitat: Open country but breeds in woodlands. 

Similar Species: Turkey vulture. 

Description:  A large, black bird with silver patches near each wing tip. It has a bare grayish head and gray legs. 

Size: Length: 23-27” Wingspan: 54-59” Weight: 1600-2400g

Food: Carrion as well as fish, vegetation, and dung. Black vultures have been know to attack small live prey, or if the vultures are in a group, larger live prey.

Breeding: Black vultures lay two white or gray/green eggs under a bush, in a hollow log, in a cave, or under large rocks. Both parents help incubate the eggs.

Predators: Very few predators.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN. Black vultures are the most abundant vulture in the Western Hemisphere.

Interesting Facts: Families of black vultures stay together for up to a year.

On the Coast: Black vultures help keep Georgia’s coast clear of excessive carrion and can be seen in groups feeding on carrion or soaring on air currents.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus major

Range/Geographical Distribution: Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Connecticut south to central Texas.

Habitat: Along the coast and saltmarshes 

Similar Species:  Fish crow. 

Description:  A large blackbird with a long, ample tail. Males are an iridescent blue/black with yellow or brown eyes, black legs, and a black bill.  Females are smaller than males and are brown with a pale brownish breast. 

Size: Length: 10-15” Wingspan:  15-20” Weight: 90-240g

Food: Extreme omnivores; eat seeds, amphibians, crustaceans, reptiles, and even scavenge trash.

Breeding:  Nest in fresh and brackish water marshes where they lay up to eight light blue spotted eggs in a shallow platform of grasses and mud.

Predators:  Often use humans for predator protection but still fall prey to yellow rat snakes, rats, alligators, and purple gallinules.

Conservation Status: The boat-tailed grackle is listed as least concern by IUCN but they are at risk from coastal development.

Interesting Facts:  If fledgling boat-tailed grackles fall into the water they can swim for short distances using their wings as paddles.

On the Coast:  Boat-tailed grackles often form flocks on Georgia’s coast.  These birds take advantage of human populated areas for food and protection from predators.

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

Range/Geographical Distribution:  Along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Venezuela and along the Pacific coast from southern California to Chile. After nesting season, they can be seen as far north as British Columbia.

Habitat: Warm coastal, estuarine, and marine environments.  

Similar Species: White pelican. 

Description:  A large brown bird with brown legs.  Breeding plumage includes a white head and a brown neck. The non-breeding adult’s head and neck are white. Immature birds have dark brown heads and white bellies. 

Size: Length: 39-54” Wingspan: 79” Weight: 2000-5000g

Food: Fish and some marine invertebrates.

Breeding:  Lays two or three white eggs in a nest of straw, sticks, and other debris placed in a tree or a low bush on the ground on islands. Pelicans nest in colonies.

Predators:  Chicks may fall prey to feral cats, skunks, and gulls. Adults have few known predators.

Conservation Status: Pesticide poisoning, especially DDT, caused populations to decline in the late 1950’s. Brown pelicans were listed as endangered in 1970 but were removed from the endangered species list in 1985. Populations are now stable and it is listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The brown pelican is the only pelican species which plunges from the air into the water after its food.

On the Coast: The brown pelican can be seen frequently along the coast of Georgia. It is the only dark species out of the seven species of pelicans found across the world.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Phalacrocorax auritus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Mexico and in the Bahamas. Winters along the coasts from the Bahamas to New England.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, swamps, and coasts. 

Similar Species:  Anhinga. 

Description:  A duck-like bird with a dark body, black bill and legs, and an orange pouch on its throat. Immature birds are brownish with a pale throat and chest. 

Size: Length: 27-35” Wingspan: 45-48” Weight: 1200-2500g

Food: Fish as well as other aquatic animals, insects, and amphibians. Dives into the water to catch fish.

Breeding:  Lays three to five pale blue/green eggs on a platform of sticks or seaweed placed in a tree or on a cliff. Nest in colonies.

Predators:  Predators of cormorant eggs include crows, gulls, grackles, blue jays, and raccoons. Adults are preyed upon by owls and eagles.

Conservation Status: Cormorant populations decreased due to pesticide poisoning in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were listed as a species of concern in 1972 but recovered quickly. The cormorant is now listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The doubled-crested cormorant uses a wide variety of materials to build its nest including trash, rope, deflated balloons, and even parts of dead birds.

On the Coast: Double-crested cormorants can be seen swimming through waterways catching fish along Georgia’s coast. After its ‘swim,’ it will perch with its wings out, drying itself in the sun.


Calidris alpine

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from Alaska to the Hudson Bay and spends the winter along the coast from Alaska and Massachusetts southward.

Habitat: Coastal tundra, mudflats, marshes, estuaries, sandy beaches, and shores of lakes and ponds.

Similar Species:  Willet, sanderling, and ruddy turnstone. 

Description: Small mottled brown shorebird with a large dark bill that droops towards the tip. During breeding season, the dunlin has a black belly patch and rusty brown wings and back. Non-breeding birds have grey wings and back and a white belly. 

Size: Length: 6-9” Wingspan: 14-15” Weight: 48-64g

Food: Insects and insect larvae, marine worms, crustaceans, mollusks, and other marine invertebrates.

Breeding:  Breeds in the wet coastal tundra, nests in a shallow scrape in the ground, and usually lays four brown-spotted eggs .

Predators:  Avian predators including merlin, peregrine falcons, owls, and other hawks.

Conservation Status:  Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The dunlin is a migratory, circumpolar breeder with different sub-populations, some that migrate in short coastal flights and others that migrate with long, non-stop flights over land.

On the Coast: The dunlin spends the winter along Georgia’s coast and can often be seen wandering up and down the surf zone in search of prey.

Fish Crow

Corvus ossifragus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Lives along the East coast from Massachusetts to south Florida, and along the Gulf Coast west to Texas.

Habitat:  Coastal low country including lakes, swamps, and rivers. 

Similar Species:  Boat-tailed grackle.

Description: Solid black bird with a black bill and legs. 

Size: Length: 14-16” Wingspan: 33” Weight: 195-330g

Food: Carrion, bird eggs, garbage, grain, and fruit.

Breeding:  Lays four or five green eggs with brown blotches in a nest of sticks in an evergreen or deciduous tree.

Predators: Large birds of prey. 

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The fish crow will break open hard mollusks’ shells by dropping the shells onto rocks from above.

On the Coast: The fish crow is primarily a bird of the coast, living up and down the Atlantic coast. However, the fish crow can be found inland in much of Georgia along rivers and streams.

Forster’s Tern

Sterna forsteri

Range/Geographical Distribution: Throughout North America.

Habitat: Marshes, coastal beaches, lakes, and rivers. 

Similar Species:   Royal tern, laughing gull, ring-billed gull, and herring gull. 

Description:  A medium-sized tern with a grey back and a deeply forked tail. In the summer, the head has a black cap and the legs and bill are orange. In the winter, there is a black patch around the eye and the beak and legs are black. Immature has similar coloration to the winter adult. 

Size: Length: 13-14” Wingspan:  30-31” Weight: 130-190g

Food: Small fish and arthropods.

Breeding:  Breeds in marshes, usually near open water. Nests in clumps of marsh vegetation and lays up to six speckled olive/sand colored eggs.

Predators:  Sharks and large birds of prey.

Conservation Status: The Forster’s tern is listed as least concern by IUCN.  Depleted fish stocks, litter, and loss of habitat threaten these birds.

Interesting Facts: The Forster’s tern is the only tern restricted to North America. They can be seen plunging head first into coastal waters.

On the Coast: Forster’s terns come to Georgia’s coast during the winter months.  

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodius

Range/Geographical Distribution: Found from coastal Alaska, south-central Canada, and Nova Scotia south to Mexico and the West Indies.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, marshes, and ponds. 

Similar Species: Little blue heron, and tricolor heron.

Description:  A large bird with a blue/grey belly, wings, and back and a white crown stripe and black plumage extending from behind the eye.  Shaggy grey feathers on its neck and back. Yellow bill and light grey legs. 

Size: Length: 38-54” Wingspan: 65-79” Weight: 2100-2500g

Food: Fish, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians.

Breeding:  Lays five to seven green/blue eggs on a shallow platform of sticks usually placed in a tree but can also be found on the ground or concealed in reeds.  Nests in colonies.

Predators:  Bobcats, coyotes, bald eagles, hawks, and crows.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The white version of the great blue heron, called the great white heron, is actually a white morph of the same species and is found exclusively along the coast of southern Florida, in the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Caribbean.

On the Coast: Great blue herons are numerous along Georgia’s coast. They can be seen nesting in groups up to a hundred individuals in treetops near open water.

Great Egret

Ardea alba

Range/Geographical Distribution: Across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world including much of North and South America and Europe.

Habitat: Marshes, swamps, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, tidal flats, and canals. 

Similar Species: Wood stork, snowy egret, and white ibis. 

Description:  An all white bird with black legs and a yellow bill. During breeding season adults have long plumes on their backs. 

Size: Length: 37-41”  Wingspan: 51-57” Weight: 1000g

Food: Fish, amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, other birds, and small mammals.

Breeding:  Nests in colonies and produces three to five pale green/blue eggs laid on a platform of sticks in a tree or bush.

Predators:  Adults have no non-human predators. Eggs and young fall prey to raccoons, crows, and vultures.

Conservation Status: Great egrets were threatened by plume hunters in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They are now listed as least concern by IUCN. They currently face threats from habitat loss and human development.

Interesting Facts: The great egret is the symbol for the National Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to protecting birds and one of the oldest environmental societies. 

On the Coast: The great egret lives along Georgia’s coast year-round. It is a long-lived species of bird and may live at least 23 years in the wild.

Green Heron

Butorides virescens

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds throughout most of the United States and Southern Canada. Spends its winters along the coasts of California, Texas, and Arizona. Also winters along the Gulf Coast and along the Atlantic Coast to South Carolina.

Habitat: Breeds in swamps. Forages in swamps, ponds, marshes, creeks, and streams.

Similar Species: Tricolored heron, and little blue heron. 

Description:  The green heron has a black crown with a dark green/blue back and wings and a rusty red neck. Its bill is dark and its legs are green/yellow. Immature birds have streaks on the neck, breast, and sides.  

Size: Length: 16-18” Wingspan: 25-27” Weight: 240g

Food: Small fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and insects.

Breeding:  Lays three to six pale green/blue eggs in a nest of loose sticks in a tree or a dense thicket.

Predators:  Snakes, grackles, and raccoons eat eggs and young. Large birds of prey will prey upon adult green herons.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN. Populations are stable.

Interesting Facts: Green herons have been known to place an object, like an insect, on the surface of the water to attract a fish to catch.

On the Coast: While most green herons migrate away from Georgia’s coast in the autumn, some will stay along the coast all winter.

Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Temperate shorelines throughout most of North America.

Habitat: Breeds on islands. Can be found at sea, along beaches and mudflats, and at dumps. 

Similar Species: Ring-billed gull, laughing gull, royal tern, and Forester’s tern. 

Description:  A medium to large gull with a white head and underbody. Its back is grey and wingtips are black with white spots. Bill is yellow with a distinct red mark on it. Juvenile birds are mottled brown. 

Size: Length: 22-24” Wingspan: 54-58” Weight: 800-1250g

Food: Fish, marine invertebrates, berries, insects, birds, eggs, and garbage (scavenger).

Breeding:  Lays two to four spotted olive/brown eggs in a mass of seaweed or grass on the ground. Commonly nests on islands and in large colonies.

Predators: Sharks and large birds of prey.

Conservation Status: Herring gulls are listed as least concern by IUCN.  Depleted fish stocks, litter, and loss of habitat are threats to these birds.

Interesting Facts: The herring gull drinks freshwater whenever it’s available. If it’s not available, the gull will drink salt water. Special glands near the eyes remove the excess salt and it can be seen dripping out of the gull’s nostrils.

On the Coast: The herring gull has extended its breeding range south on the Atlantic coast and now includes Georgia’s coastline. It may be displacing the more southern laughing gull from some areas.

Laughing Gull

Larus atricilla

Range/Geographical Distribution: Nova Scotia to the Caribbean.

Habitat: Coastal or inland species, rarely venturing far out to sea or into surrounding deciduous forests. 

Similar Species: Laughing gull, herring gull, royal tern, and Forester’s tern.

Description: A medium gull with grey back and wings, black legs, and a white belly.  Breeding plumage includes a black hood and red bill. In winter the head is white. Immature birds are a mottled brown. 

Size:  Length: 15-18” Wingspan: 36-47” Weight: 203-271g

Food:  A carnivore and scavenger; eats insects, berries, fish, crabs, garbage, and shellfish. Often steals food from other birds.

Breeding:  Lays three olive-browns eggs in a nest located on the ground either in the salt marsh or on the sand.  Lines the nest with grasses and nests in large colonies.

Predators:  Sharks and large birds of prey.

Conservation Status: Laughing gulls are listed as least concern by IUCN.  Depleted fish stocks, litter, and loss of habitat are threats to these birds.

Interesting Facts: During the late nineteenth century, laughing gulls were nearly eliminated in the northeast United States from plume and egg hunters. Males and females usually build their nest together but if a male doesn’t have a mate, he will start building a nest alone to attract a mate.

On the Coast: The laughing gull is the most common gull found along the coast of Georgia during the summer months.

Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea

Range/Geographical Distribution: Eastern United States south to Peru and Argentina.

Habitat: Marshes, swamps, estuaries, rice fields, ponds, and shores. 

Similar Species:   Adult – great blue heron, tricolored heron; Immature – great egret, snowy egret, white ibis. 

Description:  A medium-sized heron that is slate blue with a maroon neck.  Bill grey and legs dark.  Immature birds are all white with olive legs and a black-tipped bill. 

Size: Length: 22-29” Wingspan:  39-41” Weight: 296-412g

Food: Small fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates

Breeding:  Nests in colonies with other herons.  Lays up to six pale blue/green eggs on a platform nest made of sticks and green vegetation within a tree or shrub.

Predators:  Adults are preyed upon by owls, venomous snakes, eagles, raccoons, and alligators. Eggs fall prey to raccoons, crows, and vultures.

Conservation Status: The little blue heron is listed as least concern by IUCN but habitat loss and degradation still threatens this species.

Interesting Facts:  Juvenile little blue herons are more readily accepted by mixed flocks of birds including snowy egrets and great egrets, probably due to their white color.  Juveniles have higher catch rates when fishing with these flocks and this may be why the little blue heron stays white for its first year of life.

On the Coast:  Little blue herons are often seen wading near Georgia beaches, saltmarshes, estuaries, ponds, and swamps.

Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus

Range/Geographical Distribution: North America from southern Canada to Mexico.

Habitat: Open land, fields, wires, and scrub. 

Similar Species:  Northern mockingbird. 

Description:  A big-headed, small-tailed grey bird with black wings, a white breast, and a black mask.  Bill is hooked. 

Size: Length: 8-9” Wingspan: 11-12.5” Weight: 35-50g

Food:  Insects, lizards, mice, and birds.

Breeding:  Lays up to nine grayish eggs with dark spots in a nest in a tree.

Predators:  Larger birds of prey, snakes, dogs, and cats.  Also collides with cars.

Conservation Status: The loggerhead shrike is listed as least concern by IUCN but these birds have declined drastically and are absent from the northern part of their range.  The reason for this decline is unknown.

Interesting Facts:  Although it doesn’t look like a predator, the loggerhead shrike uses its hooked bill to catch prey and sever its spinal cord.  The shrike then impales the prey on a thorn while it rips the food apart.

On the Coast:  Loggerhead shrikes may be seen sitting on wires or atop trees along Georgia’s coast.

Marbled Godwit

Limosa fedoa

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from Saskatchewan to Minnesota and winters south of Virginia and along the Gulf Coast.

Habitat: Plains, mudflats, and beaches. 

Similar Species: Willet. 

Description:  Crow-sized bird that is brown all over with a speckled back and wings. Bill has a dark tip with a pinkish base. Breeding plumage includes a white stripe across the chest. Juveniles are similar to the non-breeding adult.

Size: Length: 16-19” Wingspan: 28-35” Weight: 285-454g

Food: Insects and crustaceans.

Breeding: Breeds in the Great Plains. Nests on the ground in a dug out nest lined with grasses and lays four speckled olive eggs.

Predators:  Raccoons and skunks.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN. Population declined in the 1800’s but is now stable.

Interesting Facts: The marbled godwit is the fourth largest shorebird found in North America.

On the Coast: In the winter months, marbled godwits prefer the saltwater beaches and mud flats along the east coast. Marbled godwits can be seen along Georgia’s coast in the winter months.

Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos

Range/Geographical Distribution: Throughout most of the United States and Mexico as well as parts of Canada.

Habitat: Suburban areas, farms, roadsides, and thickets. 

Similar Species:  Northern shrike. 

Description:  A robin-sized bird that is grey above and white below with distinctive white patches on wings and tail.  Juveniles are spotted below. 

Size: Length: 8-10” Wingspan:  12-14” Weight: 45-58g

Food: Mostly insects in the summer and fruit in the fall and winter.

Breeding:  Build stick nests in trees where they lay up to six pale blue and splotched eggs.

Predators:  Larger birds of prey, snakes, dogs, and cats.

Conservation Status:  The northern mockingbird is listed as least concern by IUCN but populations were low in the nineteenth century due to the pet trade.

Interesting Facts: Mockingbirds add new songs to their repertoire throughout their life and males may learn as many as 200 songs.

On the Coast:  The northern mockingbird is usually seen perched in a tree singing a series of unique songs.  Also found running and hopping along the ground, sometimes displaying the white patches on their wings.


Pandion haliaetus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to Arizona and New Mexico. Present along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and in California during the winter months. Found on all continents except Antarctica.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, and seacoasts. 

Similar Species:  Bald eagle. 

Description:  Ospreys have a dark brown back and a white belly. The head is white with a dark stripe across the eyes. Also has a black, hooked beak and sharp talons. 

Size: Length: 21-23” Wingspan: 59-71” Weight: 1400-2000g

Food: Fish.

Breeding:  Lays two to four white, pink, or buff speckled eggs in a nest of sticks and debris placed in a dead tree, on flat ground, or on top of a telephone pole.

Predators:  Osprey eggs are vulnerable to foxes, skunks, raccoons, and other birds. Adults have no predators.

Conservation Status:  Populations declined drastically in the 1950’s and 1960’s due to pesticide poisoning. Their population is now stable and listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Ospreys have spikes on their talons that aid the bird in holding onto slippery fish. Once a fish is caught, the osprey positions the fish headfirst in its talons so that the fish is as aerodynamic as possible. 

On the Coast: Osprey can be seen along Georgia’s coastline soaring above the many waterways. It often builds nests on manmade objects such as telephone poles, pilings, and channel markers. 90-95% of ospreys now nest on top of man-made objects.

Pigeon (Rock Dove)

Columba livia

Range/Geographical Distribution: Worldwide.

Habitat: Urban areas, farmlands, and rocky cliffs. 

Similar Species:  None. 

Description:  Usually grey with a whitish rump, two dark wing bars, and a dark head but many color variants exist.  Walks with a distinctive head bob. 

Size: Length: 11-14” Wingspan:  50-67” Weight: 265-380g

Food: Seeds, fruits, and whatever they can scavenge from humans.

Breeding:  Lays up to three white eggs in a flimsy nest built of straw usually on a building.

Predators:  Larger birds of prey, snakes, dogs, and cats.

Conservation Status: The pigeon is listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts:  The pigeon was introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600s.  These birds have remarkable homing capabilities and were used to carry messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWI and WWII.

On the Coast:  Pigeons are common on the Georgia coast and are often seen in parking lots and other areas near human populations.

Royal Tern

Sterna maxima

Range/Geographical Distribution: North and South America as well as along the west coast of Africa.

Habitat: Along bays, lagoons, estuaries, saltmarshes, and mangroves.

Similar Species:   Forester’s tern, ring-billed gull, laughing gull, and herring gull.

Description: A large tern with gray wings, dark wing tips, and forked tail.  Orange bill, white forehead, and partial black cap.  Some adults may have a full black cap during breeding season. 

Size: Length: 17-20” Wingspan:  49-53” Weight: 350-450g

Food: Fish, squid, and small crustaceans.

Breeding:  Nests in colonies on island beaches.  Lays a single white/brown spotted egg on a scrape on the ground.

Predators:  Adults have few predators but eggs and chicks are vulnerable to gulls, raccoons, dogs, cats, and rats.

Conservation Status: The royal tern is listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Juvenile terns stay with their parents for up to eight months after hatching, an unusually long period of bird parental care.

On the Coast:  Royal terns may be seen along Georgia’s coastal waters diving from above in order to catch fish.

Ruddy Turnstone

Arenaria interpres

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds in northwestern Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Spends its winters along the Atlantic coast south of Connecticut.

Habitat: Breeds on coastal tundra. Spends its winters on coastal beaches. 

Similar Species: Sanderling, willet, and dunlin. 

Description:  Stocky shorebird with bright orange legs and rusty brown coloration on its back and wings. Distinct black marks can be seen on its face and chest.  

Size: Length: 6-8” Wingspan: 19-22” Weight: 84-190g

Food: Aquatic invertebrates and insects as well as carrion, garbage, and bird eggs.

Breeding:  Lays four spotted olive eggs in a hollow lined with grasses and leaves on the coastal tundra.

Predators:  Large birds of prey, feral cats, and wild boars. 

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Ruddy turnstones get their names from their method of foraging for food. They walk along the beach, overturning stones and grabbing the animals hiding underneath.

On the Coast: The ruddy turnstone spends the winter months along Georgia’s coast. They can be seen near the jetties on Tybee Island’s south end.

Ring-Billed Gull

Larus delawarensis

Range/Geographical Distribution: Temperate shorelines throughout North America and Mexico.

Habitat: Found on islands and around freshwater, golf courses, landfills, shopping areas, and coastal beaches. 

Similar Species: Laughing gull, herring gull, royal tern, and Forester’s tern. 

Description:  A medium-sized gull with a white head and belly and a light grey back. Wingtips are black with white spots. Feet are yellow and bill is yellow with a black ring near the tip. Non-breeding adults have faint brown streaks on the head. Juveniles are a dappled brown. 

Size: Length: 18-20” Wingspan: 41-46” Weight: 300-700g

Food: Insects, fish, grain, and garbage.

Breeding: Lays three olive-brown eggs in a nest located on the ground either in the salt marsh or on the sand. Lines the nest with grasses and nests in large colonies.

Predators: Sharks and large birds of prey. 

Conservation Status: Ring-billed gulls are listed as least concern by IUCN.  Depleted fish stocks, litter, loss of habitat are threats to these birds. 

Interesting Facts: Ring-billed gulls have been known to hybridize with other small gulls, such as the laughing gull.

On the Coast: Ring-billed gulls return to breed at the colony where they hatched. The ring-billed gulls of Georgia return each year to nest along the Georgia coast.


Calidris alba

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds on islands in the Arctic in Canada.  Spends winters along the coasts of British Columbia south to much of South America. Also in Eurasia. One of the most widespread shorebirds.

Habitat: Coastal, sandy beaches. 

Similar Species: Ruddy turnstone, willet, and dunlin. 

Description:  Starling-sized bird with a black bill and legs, white underbody, and a distinct white stripe on its wing seen in flight.  Summer breeding adults have a brown and white pattern on their head, breast and back. Winter non-breeding adults’ pattern is replaced by a pale grey coloration. 

Size: Length: 7-8” Wingspan: 14” Weight: 40-100g

Food: Aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.

Breeding:  Breeds on tundra. Lays four spotted olive eggs in a hollow lined with lichen and grasses.

Predators: Larger birds including gulls, falcons, merlins, and owls will eat adults, young, and eggs. Domestic cats and wolves will also eat sanderlings.

Conservation Status: Global population trend is unknown, but there is some evidence that American populations may be declining due to habitat degradation.  Listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts: Sanderlings are predominantly monogamous, but occasionally the female will lay several successions of eggs for different males.

On the Coast: Sanderlings spend the winter months on the coast of Georgia and various other temperate beaches around the world. They can be seen running behind a receding wave pecking at the invertebrates that live in the wet sand.

Snowy Egret

Egretta thula

Range/Geographical Distribution: From Oregon and California east to New England, mainly along the coasts. Spends the winter months from Virginia south to the West Indies and South America.

Habitat: Marshes, ponds, mudflats, and swamps. 

Similar Species: Great egret, white ibis, and wood stork. 

Description:  An all white heron with black legs, yellow feet, and a black bill. During breeding season, the snowy egret has long white plumes on its head and neck.

Size: Length: 22-26” Wingspan: 39” Weight: 370g

Food: Fish and invertebrates.

Breeding:  The snowy egret lays three to five pale blue/green eggs on a platform of sticks placed in a bush, reed-bed, or on the ground. It nests in large colonies, often with other species of herons and egrets.

Predators:  Owls, venomous snakes, eagles, raccoons, and alligators.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts:  The snowy egret feeds by sprinting through shallow waters chasing schools of fish, often feeding in groups. Their noticeable white color signals to other birds where the good feeding grounds are located.

On the Coast: Snowy egrets live along Georgia’s coast year-round. They can be seen nesting in colonies, which may include several hundred nests.

Tricolored Heron

Egretta tricolor

Range/Geographical Distribution: Eastern United States and Central America south to Brazil.  Winters south of North Carolina.

Habitat: Marshes, swamps, streams, and shores. 

Similar Species:  Great blue heron, and little blue heron.

Description:  A medium-sized wading bird with a white belly and white neck stripe. The neck is blue-brown, the legs are yellow, and the back is blue. 

Size: Length:  23-28” Wingspan:  37” Weight: 415g

Food:  Hunts small fish and invertebrates in shallow waters.

Breeding:  Nests in trees in colonies among coastal wetlands and freshwater marshes.  Lays three or four blue/green eggs in a twig and grass nest.

Predators:  Eggs fall prey to raccoons, crows, and vultures.

Conservation Status: The tricolored heron is listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts:  Tricolored herons are monogamous and males gather the twigs that the female use to build a nest.

On the Coast:  Tricolored herons are often seen wading near Georgia beaches, saltmarshes, estuaries, and swamps in search of prey.

Turkey Vulture

Coragyps aura

Range/Geographical Distribution: Breeds from British Columbia, the Great Lakes, and New Hampshire southward. It winters in the southwest and southeast northward to southern New England.

Habitat: Forests and woodlands, in open areas, and along roadsides and railroads. 

Similar Species: Black vulture. 

Description:  A large black bird with a pink/red head and legs.  Underside of wings is a silver grey. When soaring, it holds its wings in a shallow “V” shape and rarely flaps them.  

Size: Length: 25-32” Wingspan: 67-70” Weight: 2000g

Food: Feeds on carrion, mainly mammals but will also eat dead reptiles, invertebrates, fish, and other birds.

Breeding:  Lays two white eggs marked with dark brown in a crevice in rocks, in a hollow tree, or in a hollow log.

Predators: Very few predators.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN. Their numbers were once threatened due to DDT poisoning but turkey vultures are now one of the most common carnivorous birds in North America.

Interesting Facts: The turkey vulture uses its strong sense of smell to locate carrion. The part of the brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large in turkey vultures when compared to other birds.

On the Coast: Turkey vultures are prevalent along Georgia’s coast. Often times they can be seen along highways cleaning up carrion and they also rest in broods in trees.

White Ibis

Eudocimus albus

Range/Geographical Distribution: Lives along the coast from North Carolina to Florida and Texas.

Habitat: Mudflats, marshes, lagoons, and swampy forests. 

Similar Species: Snowy egret, great egret, and wood stork. 

Description: Solid white bird with black tips on its wings. It has pink legs, face, and long, curved bill. Immature birds are mottled brown with a white belly. 

Size: Length: 22-27” Wingspan:  35-40“  Weight: 750-1050g

Food: Insects, crabs, and crayfish.

Breeding:  Lay three to four green/white spotted eggs in a nest of sticks in trees over water.   Nests in colonies.

Predators:  Large birds of prey.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: White ibis eat crabs and crayfish, which in turn eat large quantities of fish eggs. By keeping down the populations of crabs and crayfish, the birds help increase the fish population.

On the Coast: The white ibis population has been increasing in Georgia over the past 50 years. These birds can be seen inland during their seasonal migration but live along Georgia’s coastline year-round.


Catoptrophorous semipalmatus

Range/Geographical Distribution: From central Canada to California and along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast south.

Habitat: Coastal beaches, freshwater and salt marshes, wet prairies, and lakeshores. 

Similar Species: Sanderling, marbled godwit, ruddy turnstone, and dunlin.

Description:  Large sandpiper with a grey/brown back and grey legs. It has distinct black and white stripes on the wings and a long, heavy, dark bill.

Size: Length: 13-16” Wingspan: 27” Weight: 200-330g

Food: Insects, marine worms, and crustaceans.

Breeding:  Lays four olive colored eggs in a nest lined with plant material or shells in a depression on open ground or within a clump of grass.

Predators: Red foxes, raccoons, and fish crows.

Conservation Status: Listed as least concern by IUCN.

Interesting Facts: The willet gets its name form its call-pill-will-willet.

On the Coast: Willets are migratory birds but live year-round along the coast of Georgia and can often been seen wading along the shore in search of prey.

Wood Stork

Mycteria americana

Range/Geographical Distribution: Predominately along the coasts of Georgia and Florida but may be found from South Carolina to Texas.

Habitat: On or near the coast, mangroves, and swamps. 

Similar Species: Great egret, snowy egret, and white ibis.

Description:  A very large white bird with black legs, head, and heavy bill. Has large black patches on its wings and a black tail visible during flight.

Size: Length: 33-45” Wingspan: 59-69” Weight: 2050-2640g

Food: Fish and invertebrates.

Breeding:  Nests in colonies and lays two or three white eggs on a huge stick platform in a tree. Wood storks are monogamous and considered a low productive species, only mating when conditions are right (i.e. enough food, right weather conditions, and appropriate nesting conditions).

Predators:  Raccoons and alligators will prey upon eggs and young wood storks.

Conservation Status: The USFWS names the wood stork as an endangered species in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and North and South Carolina. There is an estimated 11,000 wood Storks in North America. Populations have increased since 1984 when they were first placed on the Federal Endangered Species List. Wood Storks’ main threat is habitat destruction.

Interesting Facts: Woods stork young are very fragile at birth. Both parents care for the young, often feeding them up to 12 times per day. Parents will travel up to 50 miles to search for adequate food for their young.

On the Coast: Wood storks are non-migrant birds who live along Georgia’s coast. They can been seen shuffling their feet to stir up food or swinging their open bill through the water until it comes in contact with prey, then snaps shut.