Europe and Central Asia

Seabirds and Marine - What are seabirds?

What are seabirds?

Seabirds spend most of their lives at sea. For this reason they have developed a range of characteristics adapted to the marine environment. 

  • Atlantic Puffin - Fratercula arctica

    Special marine trait: Webbed feet

    Seabirds have flexible webbed feet that enable them to swim at fast speeds. Due to the greater surface area of these webbed feet, they also serve as propellers when taking flight.

  • European Shag - Phalacrocorax aristotelis

    Special marine trait: Salt glands

    Specialised salt nasal glands are found in many seabirds just above the eyes. These glands act as a desalinators and the salt is screted through their nostrils, enabling seabirds to "drink" water.

  • Common Tern - Sterna hirundo

    Special marine trait: Wing morphology

    The wing shapes of seabirds are adapted to their feeding and flying habits. Some seabirds -- such as the Arctic Tern, which migrates from pole to pole every year -- have long and tapered wings that are essential for covering long distances with minimal effort.

    Other species such as the Puffin have short and sturdy wings, which give them more control when diving underwater for feeding.

  • Ring-billed Gull - Larus delawarensis

    Special marine trait: Specialized feathers

    Compared to their inland relatives, seabirds have developed waterproof feathers that help them with buoyancy and add extra insulation - an adaptation to the harsher marine environment.

    Seabirds have also been found to have more feathers relative to their body size than their land counterparts - again an adaptation to colder temperatures.

  • Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

    Special marine trait: Plumage colouration

    The "countershading" (dark on top, light on the bottom) found in many seabirds serves as camouflage, especially in smaller seabirds.

    The brownish plumage above provides them with protection from aerial predators, while the white plumage below ensures that they are not seen from below the water.

  • Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus

    Special marine trait: Adapted bills 

    Seabirds such as the Northern Gannet engage in plunge diving behaviour to catch their prey. Their aerodynamic bill shape ensures that the impact of hitting the water is minimised.

    Other seabirds such as the Puffin have developed ridged bills that are adapted to secure fish while they open their mouths to catch more.

READ MORE: The science of seabirds



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