Seabirds: An Important Part of the Ecosystem

Seabirds are often an overlooked group of marine wildlife but they are just as important as whales, sharks and dolphins.

Seabirds Impact

Often researchers can deem a lot about an ecosystem from the health and population of seabirds. Seabirds have been used by researchers as bioindicators of marine ecosystems because they react too changes in the environmental very quickly. Some examples of this are alerting to pollution issues such as oil spills and contaminations, as well as climate change and declines in their food source.¹ 


Endangered Seabirds

There are an estimated 360 species of seabirds and 47% of those are seeing a decline in their population and 31% are threatened with extinction. Knowing exactly which species are at most risk is difficult and data can be hard to collect as most species of seabird have long migration patterns across the world.² 


Seabirds can be broken down into different types and we have tried to list some of the types of seabird here:

  • Tropicbird, there are just 3 species of tropicbird and unlike most other seabirds they have very recognisable white plumage with long tail feathers.

  • Albatross are the largest flying bird in the world who are very capable of walking on land, unlike many seabirds. There are 22 species of Albatross.

  • Penguins are possibly the most well known seabird and are flightless. There are 18 species of penguins, all of which vary in size and range.

  • Gannet, there are 3 species of gannets all feature black wingtips , white plumage and buff-ting heads. They are closely related to boobies.

  • Boobies get their name from their notoriously gullible natures and funny facial expressions. There are 6 species of booby.

  • Petrel are smaller seabirds who like to fly low over the ocean, sometimes even appearing to 'walk' on the waters surface.³ There are around 32 species of petrel across the globe.

    • Shearwaters are a small petrel with specialised long wings perfect for gliding. With more than 30 species of shearwater found across the world they can be spotted far out at sea where ocean upwelling brings prey such as plankton and squid to the surface.

    • Fulmar are sometimes confused with gulls but are actually petrels. They are opportunistic hunters with the ability to filter salt out of the seawater they drink.There are two species of fulmar.

Seabird Image

  • Frigatebird are also known as pirate birds because they steal food from other birds! There are 5 species of frigatebird.

  • Auks are medium sized seabirds that are very adept to colder environments in the northern seas. Many auks, such as puffins, have colourful beaks and most will have black and white plumage. There are 23 species of auk.

    • Puffins, there are 3 species of puffins all have strikingly colourful beaks and are powerful swimmers. Because of their bold beaks they are often called sea clowns/ sea parrots.

    • Murre are types of auks but bear a resemblance to penguins, they will dive underwater to pursue their prey but on land they are clumsy when waddling. There are just 2 species of murre.³

  • Gulls possibly one of the most well known seabirds, with around 50 species in the world! They are distantly related to auks but more closely related to terns.⁵ 

  • Terns, there are about 40 species that belong to the family Laridae and they inhabit not only the coastal areas but also inland waterways. They are typically smaller than gulls and have a range of plumage from white to black. 


Threats To Seabirds

It is no secret that marine wildlife is at risk from many threats and seabirds are no exception, with some suggesting that they are most at risk because they face threats from both land and sea! Their declining numbers have been noted across the world and groups are working together to prevent the loss of critical species. BirdLife led a study in collaboration with other researchers to see the impact of these threats on a global scale and they found that the top three threats to seabirds are invasive species (affecting 46% of all species), bycatch (affecting 28% of all species) and climate change (affecting 27% of all species).⁷ 

Later this month we will be going into depth about the threats to seabirds so keep your eyes out for that blog, and make sure you are signed up to our email!

Supporting Seabirds

BirdLife International wants to see a world where nature and people live in harmony, a more equitable and sustainable environment for all living creatures. They strive to conserve birds and their habitat as well as global diversity and working with people towards sustainable use of natural resources.

This month we are going to be donating 10% of gross profits to BirdLife International to support their conservation of seabirds and help to fund their research so that globally we can have a better idea of seabird population trends and what can be done to better protect them.

Check out BirdLife International's incredible work here.

April Charity Donation BirdLife International

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1] InTechOpen - Seabirds as Bioindicators of Marine Ecosystems - September 5th 2018

2] BirdLife International - Want to save seabirds? Follow them - November 6th 2018

3] The Spruce - Types of Seabirds - December 15th 2020

4] Bird Families of the World - PETRELS, SHEARWATERS & ALLIES Procellariidae - February 18th 2016

5] The Spruce - Fun Facts About Gulls - November 3rd 2019

6] Britannica - TernJuly 20th 1998

7] BirdLife International - Top threats to seabirds identified - Aug 7th 2019

8] BirdLife International - Our Vision

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