27 Spectacular Water Birds in Louisiana (ID Guide)
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Louisiana, the state known for its vibrant culture and picturesque bayous, is also a magnificent sanctuary for a diverse array of water birds. With its unique geography, including the expansive Mississippi Delta, countless rivers, and wetlands, Louisiana offers a variety of habitats that these birds call home.
The American White Pelican is a large water bird known for its impressive size, distinct white plumage, and extraordinary cooperative feeding behavior. They are commonly found in the inland freshwater lakes of North America during the summer and along the coastlines in the winter.
Appearance: American White Pelicans have a pure white body with black wingtips that are visible in flight. Their large yellow-orange bill is equipped with a stretchy pouch used for catching prey, and during the breeding season, they develop a unique, horn-like plate on the upper part of their bill.
Diet: Unlike their Brown Pelican cousins, American White Pelicans do not dive for their food. Instead, they catch their prey while swimming. They primarily xatch fish, but occasionally supplement their diet with crustaceans and amphibians. Interestingly, they often feed in groups, moving together to herd fish into shallow waters where they can easily scoop them up.
Reproduction: American White Pelicans typically nest in colonies on isolated islands. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs in a nest on the ground, which is made from dirt and vegetation.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Scientific Name: Pelecanus occidentalis
Length: 3 ft 3 in to 5 ft 0 in
Wingspan: 6 ft 8 in to 7 ft 6 in
Weight: 4.4 to 11.0 lb
The Brown Pelican is a large water bird famous for its distinct body shape and dramatic feeding habits. Known for their habit of diving headfirst into the water to catch fish, they are a staple along the coasts of the southern United States.
Appearance: Brown Pelicans are easily identifiable due to their long, curved necks, stout bodies, and large bills with a stretchy pouch. As their name suggests, they have brown and gray body feathers, with a paler head and neck that can become yellowish in breeding season.
Diet: Their diet mainly consists of fish, which they catch by making spectacular plunging dives from the air, scooping up the fish in their expandable bill pouches. They then drain the water from their pouches before swallowing their catch.
Reproduction: Brown Pelicans nest in colonies on islands, laying 2 to 3 eggs in nests made from sticks and vegetation. Both parents share incubation and feeding duties. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for around 12 weeks before they are ready to leave.
Listen to Double-crested Cormorant
Scientific Name: Nannopterum auritum
Length: 28 to 35 in
Wingspan: 45 – 48 in
Weight: 2.6 – 5.5 lb
The Double-crested Cormorant is a large waterbird recognized for its long neck, hooked bill, and notable diving abilities.
Appearance: Double-crested Cormorants have a dark body with a somewhat iridescent sheen. The bird’s name derives from the presence of two tufts or crests of feathers that appear on the sides of the head during the breeding season. They have striking greenish-yellow to bright orange skin around the throat and cheeks, and their eyes are an interesting, bright turquoise color.
Diet: Double-crested Cormorants are excellent divers and their diet primarily consists of fish. They dive beneath the water’s surface from the air or while swimming to catch their prey. After a successful dive, they can often be seen standing with their wings outstretched to dry.
Reproduction: These birds typically nest in trees, on cliffs, or on ground colonies on islands. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 4 eggs, which both parents incubate for about a month.
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Scientific Name: Anhinga anhinga
Length: 35 in
Wingspan: 3.7 ft
Weight: 2.7 lb
The Anhinga is a distinctive water bird commonly found in the southern parts of the United States. It is often referred to as the “snakebird” because of its long neck, which often protrudes from the water while the rest of its body is submerged.
Appearance: The Anhinga has a slim body with a long neck and a pointed bill. The males are dark overall with silver wing patches, while females have a pale head, neck, and upper chest contrasting with a dark lower body. When in flight, the Anhinga’s long tail and broad wings are noticeable.
Diet: Anhingas are carnivorous birds primarily feeding on fish. They are excellent divers and often swim submerged, with only their neck visible above water, stalking their aquatic prey. They also eat other aquatic creatures such as insects, crustaceans, and amphibians.
Reproduction: Anhingas breed in colonies, often with other water birds. They build stick nests in trees or shrubs near water. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs that are incubated by both parents for about 25 to 30 days. The young are cared for by both parents and start to fly after about six weeks.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Listen to Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
Wingspan: 66–79 in
Weight: 4.0–7.9 lb
The Great Blue Heron is a large species of wading bird recognized for its majestic stature, stately flight, and impressive hunting prowess.
Appearance: Great Blue Herons are strikingly tall and slender, with a gray-blue body, a wide wingspan, and a long, pointed bill. They have a white head with a black stripe above the eye extending into feathery plumes, and long, reddish-brown legs.
Diet: Great Blue Herons are skilled hunters, primarily feeding on a variety of aquatic animals such as fish, frogs, and crustaceans. They can often be seen standing motionless in shallow water, waiting patiently for prey to come within striking distance.
Reproduction: Great Blue Herons nest in large colonies, often high in trees near bodies of water. The female lays a clutch of about 3 to 5 eggs, which both parents incubate for around a month. After hatching, the young herons are fed by both parents and start to explore outside the nest within a few weeks.
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
Length: 80 – 100 cm
Wingspan: 1.3 – 1.7 m
Weight: 0.7 – 1.5 kg
The Great Egret is a large, stunningly white bird commonly found in both freshwater and saltwater habitats across the United States. Known for its elegant flight and poised hunting stance, it is a symbol of conservation success.
Appearance: Great Egrets are recognized by their bright white plumage, long, black legs, and a yellow, dagger-like bill. Their slender, long necks and large wings are highlighted when they take flight, creating an elegant and captivating sight.
Diet: Primarily, the Great Egret feeds on fish, making use of its sharp bill to spear its prey in shallow water. However, its diet is diverse and can include other aquatic creatures like amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, and invertebrates.
Reproduction: The Great Egret typically nests in trees or shrubs near water bodies, often in colonies with other water birds. A female lays 3 to 4 eggs, with both parents participating in the incubation process.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Length: 22.1–26.0 in
Wingspan: 39.4 inches
Weight: 13.1 oz
The Snowy Egret is a small, graceful bird celebrated for its striking white plumage and contrasting black and yellow details. Found across the United States in a variety of water habitats, this bird is known for its animated hunting style.
Appearance: Snowy Egrets are particularly noticeable due to their pure white feathers, slender black legs, and bright yellow feet, which are often described as looking like they’ve been dipped in golden paint. They also sport a thin, black bill and expressive, yellow eyes.
Diet: Their diet mainly consists of fish, but they are known to consume a variety of aquatic animals such as crustaceans, insects, and small amphibians. Notably, their unique yellow feet are used to stir up prey from the bottom of shallow water.
Reproduction: Snowy Egrets typically nest in trees or shrubs in colonies with other water birds. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them.
Scientific Name: Egretta rufescens
Length: 27–32 in
Wingspan: 46–49 in
Weight: 0.802–1.918 lb
The Reddish Egret is a large wading bird admired for its reddish plumage and active hunting behavior.
Appearance: Reddish Egrets are notable for their gray body and reddish neck and head. They also possess a distinctive shaggy appearance, with elongated neck and body feathers. There are also white morphs of the species that are entirely white.
Diet: Reddish Egrets primarily feed on fish, but they also eat amphibians and crustaceans. They are known for their dynamic hunting style, often running, jumping, and spinning in the shallows to chase their prey.
Reproduction: Reddish Egrets nest in colonies, usually on islands populated by other wading birds. The nests are built in shrubs or trees, with the female laying a clutch of about 3 to 4 eggs.
Scientific Name: Butorides virescen
Length: 25 to 31 in
Wingspan: 53 to 65 in
Weight: 4.5 to 6.0
The Green Heron is a small yet captivating bird, famous for its tool-using abilities and its striking appearance. This species can often be found around the edges of freshwater and saltwater habitats across much of North America.
Appearance: Green Herons possess a dark greenish-blue back, a rich chestnut body, and a dark cap on their head. Their bill is long and sharp, allowing them to be proficient hunters, while their relatively short legs give them a stocky appearance compared to other heron species.
Diet: As opportunistic feeders, Green Herons feed mainly on small fish, but their diet also includes a variety of invertebrates, insects, amphibians, and occasionally even small mammals and birds. They’re known for a unique hunting technique – using baits such as insects, feathers, or twigs to attract fish.
Reproduction: Green Herons build their nests in trees or shrubs, usually over or near water. The female typically lays 3 to 5 eggs, with both parents sharing the responsibilities of incubation.
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
Scientific Name: Egretta tricolor
Length: 22 to 30 in
Wingspan: 37 to 39 in
The Tricolored Heron, formerly known as the Louisiana Heron, is a slender and elegant bird primarily found in coastal habitats in the southeastern United States.
Appearance: The Tricolored Heron is notable for its slate-gray body, white belly, and a rust-colored neck, which gives it a tricolor appearance. The bill is long and pointed, ideal for catching prey. In breeding season, adults develop white plumes on their back and a blue bill with a bright blue base.
Diet: Tricolored Herons primarily feed on fish, but their diet also includes a variety of other aquatic organisms like crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. They often feed alone, moving slowly through wetlands or standing still, waiting for prey to come within striking distance.
Reproduction: Tricolored Herons nest in colonies, often with other heron and egret species. The nests are constructed from sticks and located in trees or shrubs, usually over water. The female lays 3 to 4 blue-green eggs that are incubated by both parents for about 21-25 days. Once hatched, the young are cared for by both parents and fledge in about five weeks.
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
Scientific Name: Egretta caerulea
Length: 25–30 in
Wingspan: 40 in
Weight: 11.5 oz
The Little Blue Heron is a small, slender heron found in slow-moving fresh and salt waters of the southeastern states of the United States.
Appearance: The Little Blue Heron is notable for its completely blue-gray plumage, which gives it a unique, uniform appearance. It has a long, pointed bill that is bluish at the base and dark at the end, and greenish-yellow legs. Young birds are entirely white for their first year, a characteristic which distinguishes them from other heron species.
Diet: Little Blue Herons are carnivorous, primarily feeding on fish, but also eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects, and amphibians. They hunt alone or in small groups, stalking their prey in shallow water, often running and shuffling their feet to stir up creatures from the bottom.
Reproduction: Little Blue Herons nest in colonies, often mixed with other species of herons and egrets. Their nests are made from sticks and are usually built over water in trees or shrubs. The female typically lays 3 to 5 light blue eggs which are incubated by both parents for about 22 days. The young are fed by both parents and leave the nest at about 30 days of age.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
Length: 22.8-26.0 in
Wingspan: 45.3-46.5 in
Weight: 25.6-35.8 oz
The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a medium-sized heron species that is known for its nocturnal habits, standing out among other, mostly diurnal herons.
Appearance: Black-crowned Night-Herons have a stocky appearance, with adults characterized by a black crown and back, contrasting sharply with a white or gray body. Their eyes are notably red. The legs are yellow to greenish yellow, but become pinkish or even red during the breeding season. Young birds are brown, speckled with white and gray.
Diet: As opportunistic feeders, Black-crowned Night-Herons eat a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals. They primarily consume fish, but their diet can also include crustaceans, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and even other birds. They usually feed at night, which gives them a unique niche among heron species.
Reproduction: Black-crowned Night-Herons are colonial nesters, often forming nesting colonies with other heron species. They build platform nests in trees or shrubs, usually over water. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents share the responsibility of incubation.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Length: 1 ft 10 in – 2 ft 4 in
Weight: 1.43–1.87 lb
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron commonly found in wetlands and coastal habitats across the southeastern United States.
Appearance: Yellow-crowned Night Herons have a sturdy body with a comparatively short neck and legs. Their distinctive feature is their namesake yellow crown, which contrasts sharply with their gray body and back. They have red eyes and a heavy, dark bill. During the breeding season, they develop long, wispy plumes on their head, giving them a stylish appearance.
Diet: Yellow-crowned Night Herons are known for their preference for crustaceans, especially crabs and crayfish. They hunt mostly at night, stalking their prey in shallow water, often remaining still for long periods before striking quickly with their bill.
Reproduction: Yellow-crowned Night Herons nest in small colonies, typically in trees or shrubs near water. The female lays 3 to 5 pale blue-green eggs which are incubated by both parents for about 25 days. After hatching, the chicks are cared for by both parents and fledge in about 30-40 days. They often return to the same nesting sites year after year.
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
Scientific Name: Eudocimus albus
Length: 21 to 28 in
Wingspan: 35 to 41 in
Weight: 1.6 – 2.3lb
The White Ibis is a wading bird renowned for its bright white plumage and distinctive, down-curved bill. It’s most commonly found in the marshes, wetlands, and along the coastlines of the southeastern United States.
Appearance: White Ibises display a predominantly white plumage that’s contrasted by their brilliant red-orange down-curved bill and legs. During the breeding season, the skin on their face may become dark blue. Juvenile White Ibises have brown upper parts and white underparts.
Diet: The diet of the White Ibis primarily consists of various invertebrates, including insects, crayfish, and other small crustaceans. Their long, curved bill is perfectly adapted for probing in mud and shallow water while foraging for food.
Reproduction: White Ibises nest in large colonies, often with other wading birds. The female typically lays 2 to 4 eggs in a nest made of twigs and leaves in trees or shrubs.
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
Scientific Name: Plegadis falcinellus
Length: 19–26 in
Wingspan: 31–41 in
Weight: 1.069 to 2.138 lb
The Glossy Ibis is a wading bird that has an extensive global range, including parts of the United States, and is the most widespread of all ibis species.
Appearance: The Glossy Ibis is characterized by its slender, curved bill and dark, iridescent body. Its feathers are a rich chestnut and dark green, which appear metallic and shiny, thus giving it the name ‘Glossy’. In breeding season, the area around the bird’s eyes becomes a bright, striking blue.
Diet: Glossy Ibises feed primarily on invertebrates such as insects, worms, and small crustaceans. They use their long, curved bills to probe for food in soft mud, often following the tide in coastal marshes, but also in shallow freshwater wetlands.
Reproduction: Glossy Ibises typically nest in colonies, often with other wading birds. The nests are made from twigs and reeds and are usually placed in trees, shrubs, or reed beds over water. The female lays 3 to 4 blue-green eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 21 days. Once hatched, the chicks are cared for by both parents and fledge at about 6 weeks.
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
Length: 28–34 in
Wingspan: 47–52 in
Weight: 2.6–4.0 lb
The Roseate Spoonbill is a large, colorful bird native to the Americas, primarily seen in the southern and coastal areas of the United States.
Appearance: Roseate Spoonbills are notable for their pink plumage and spatulate bill. They stand out with their bright pink wings and tail, while their neck and back are a paler, almost white, shade. The bill, broad and flat at the tip like a spoon, is gray, and their legs are a light pink to red color. They also have a bare, greenish head which becomes more colorful during the breeding season.
Diet: Roseate Spoonbills have a diverse diet primarily composed of small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. They feed by sweeping their spoon-like bills back and forth in the water, snapping it shut when they feel prey.
Reproduction: Roseate Spoonbills nest in colonies, often with other water birds. They build nests in shrubs or trees, close to the water. The female typically lays 2 to 3 white, brown-marked eggs. Both parents share incubation duties, which lasts about 22 to 24 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 5 to 6 weeks.
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
Length: 33–45 in
Wingspan: 55–71 in
Weight: 5-6 lb
The Wood Stork is a large wading bird native to America, known for its unique foraging technique and status as the only stork species breeding in the United States.
Appearance: The Wood Stork is characterized by its white body, black flight feathers, and bald, scaly-looking gray head. Its long legs and neck add to its distinct, somewhat prehistoric look. Its bill is long, thick, and curved, aiding in its unique way of feeding.
Diet: The Wood Stork is a carnivore, feeding primarily on fish but also consuming amphibians, insects, and occasionally small rodents. It has a unique feeding method: it wades in shallow water with its bill open and snaps it shut when a fish swims in, often without the bird needing to see its prey.
Reproduction: Wood Storks are colonial nesters, usually nesting in large rookeries and often with other wading birds. They build large stick nests in trees above water, where the female lays 3 to 5 eggs. Both parents share incubation duties, which lasts about 30 days. The chicks fledge after around 8 weeks but continue to return to the nest to be fed by parents for several weeks afterwards.
Scientific Name: Anas fulvigula
Length: 19.7–22.5 in
Wingspan: 32.7–34.3 in
Weight: 30.9–43.8 oz
The Mottled Duck is a medium-sized waterfowl species known for its subdued coloration and affinity for coastal marshes. It’s primarily found in the southern United States, particularly in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.
Appearance: As the name suggests, Mottled Ducks feature a mottled brown plumage that allows them to blend into their marshy surroundings. They have a fairly uniform color with darker back and lighter underparts. Their bills are yellow to orange, with the males usually sporting a greenish-yellow bill while the females have a more orange one.
Diet: Mottled Ducks are dabbling ducks and they primarily feed on a diet of seeds from aquatic vegetation, grasses, and agricultural crops. They also eat some aquatic insects and crustaceans.
Reproduction: Mottled Ducks pair up for the breeding season and the female typically lays 8 to 10 eggs in a nest hidden in tall grass or reeds. The female incubates the eggs while the male stands guard nearby.
Scientific Name: Mergus serrator
Length: 20–24 in
Wingspan: 28–34 in
Weight: 28.2 to 47.6 oz
The Red-breasted Merganser is a fascinating diving duck species, recognized for its swift flight and exceptional diving capabilities. They inhabit freshwater and saltwater environments and are quite common in North America and Eurasia.
Appearance: The Red-breasted Merganser boasts an interesting appearance. Males display a dark green head, bright red eyes, and a distinctive, long reddish-brown breast. Their bodies are mainly grey, and they also have a white collar and a thin, serrated bill. Females are more subdued, featuring a rusty cinnamon head with a shaggy crest and grey body.
Diet: Predominantly includes small fish, which they catch by diving underwater. They can also feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, and occasionally amphibians. Their serrated bill helps them grip slippery prey effectively.
Reproduction: The breeding ground for Red-breasted Mergansers is typically near freshwater lakes or rivers. Females build nests in tree cavities, on the ground hidden in vegetation, or use abandoned nests of other birds. The female lays a clutch of 6 to 12 eggs.
Scientific Name: Fulica americana
Length: 13–17 in
Wingspan: 23 to 28 in
Weight: 1.270 to 1.870 lb
The American Coot is a ubiquitous water bird commonly seen in the wetlands, lakes, and ponds of North America, recognized for its adaptability and striking features.
Appearance: American Coots are easily identifiable by their slate-gray bodies, offset by a white, chicken-like bill and a red eye. Their legs are also distinctive, equipped with lobed toes, as opposed to the webbed feet seen in ducks, which assist them in navigating both land and water adeptly.
Diet: While aquatic plants form the bulk of an American Coot’s diet, they aren’t strictly herbivores. These versatile birds also consume small invertebrates and fish, demonstrating their ability to adapt and survive in a variety of habitats.
Reproduction: Nesting for the American Coot usually happens in shallow water bodies, where they construct a floating nest hidden among the vegetation. A clutch can contain between 8 to 12 eggs, all of which are incubated by both parents.
Scientific Name: Antigone canadensis
Length: 2 ft 7-4 ft 6 in
Wingspan: 16.5–23.6 in
Weight: 4 – 4.5 kg
The Sandhill Crane is a tall, elegant bird known for its impressive size and striking appearance. They are found across North America, in habitats ranging from wetlands to grasslands.
Appearance: Sandhill Cranes are recognized for their tall stature, gray body, long legs, and long neck. Their most distinctive feature is a red forehead, which contrasts with their otherwise primarily gray plumage. During the breeding season, their gray feathers often take on a rusty-brown hue due to them rubbing iron-rich mud onto their feathers.
Diet: Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous birds and their diet is quite diverse, consisting of seeds, grains, berries, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They are known to forage while walking in shallow water or in fields.
Reproduction: Sandhill Cranes mate for life and their complex courtship dance is a sight to behold. They nest in marshy areas and the female typically lays two eggs.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Bald Eagle Sound
Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Length: 28–40 in
Wingspan: 5 ft 11 in and 7 ft 7 in
Weight: 6.6 -13.9 lb
The Bald Eagle, primarily found in Canada and Alaska, is instantly identifiable by its white head, dark brown body, yellow beak, and a piercing cry. Its sharp, orange-yellow eyes aid in efficient night hunting.
Predominantly residing in North America, occasionally venturing into Asia and Europe, it thrives near water bodies. It perches atop trees, providing a bird’s-eye view of its prey. It feeds on fish, carrion, small mammals like rabbits and squirrels, and reptiles. Hunting involves a swift downward swoop to seize the prey, carrying it back to the nest.
Bald Eagles are monogamous, forming lifelong pairings. They construct vast nests from sticks, lined with moss or grasses. They typically lay 1-3 eggs annually, which hatch around 35 days later. The fledglings leave the nest roughly 6 weeks after hatching, but continue to rely on their parents for nourishment for a further 5-6 months, until they become proficient hunters.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 50–66 cm (19+1⁄2–26 in)
Wingspan: 127–180 cm (50–71 in)
Weight: 0.9–2.1 kg (2 lb 0 oz – 4 lb 10 oz)
The Osprey, a fascinating bird of prey, is universally known for its exceptional hunting prowess and striking physical characteristics. Osprey are dark brown hawks on the upperparts, contrasting beautifully with the predominantly white underparts, and a distinctive dark band that stretches across the eyes towards the sides of its head.
Equipped with specialized talons and a reversible outer toe, the Osprey’s hunting strategy involves a spectacular plunge-dive into bodies of water, often emerging with a fish securely gripped in its claws.
Found on every continent except Antarctica, the Osprey is a cosmopolitan species favoring habitats near water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and coastal areas, reflecting its piscivorous diet. This bird has a diet almost exclusively of fish, making it a unique member of the raptor family and often referred to as the sea hawk or fish hawk. They locate their prey from the air, often hovering before plunging feet-first to capture a fish. When it comes to breeding, Ospreys are monogamous, often mating for life.
They construct large, bulky nests made of sticks, lined with softer materials, and prefer elevated or isolated areas such as treetops or artificial structures like utility poles. Both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and rearing the chicks.
Scientific Name: Haematopus palliatus
Length: 17–20 in
Weight: 560 g
The American Oystercatcher is a large, coastal bird celebrated for its bold coloration and specialized feeding behavior.
Appearance: American Oystercatchers are notable for their contrasting plumage, with black upperparts, white underparts, and a vivid red-orange bill. They also have distinctive yellow eyes with red-orange eye-rings.
Diet: True to their name, American Oystercatchers primarily feed on shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels. They use their strong, sharp bills to pry open the shells of these invertebrates.
Reproduction: American Oystercatchers generally nest on sandy or pebbly beaches, dunes, or salt marsh islands. The female lays a clutch of about 2 to 4 eggs, which are incubated by both parents.
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
Scientific Name: Rynchops niger
Length: 16–20 in
Wingspan: 42–50 in
The Black Skimmer is a unique coastal bird recognizable for its unusual feeding method, giving it a fascinating presence on the beaches and sandbars it calls home.
Appearance: The Black Skimmer sports a stark contrast in color with a black upper body and white lower body. Its most distinctive feature is its bill, which is knife-thin, bright red at the base, and black at the tip. The bird’s lower mandible is much longer than the upper, an adaptation for its unique feeding style.
Diet: As its name suggests, the Black Skimmer feeds by skimming the surface of water bodies with its elongated lower mandible to catch small fish and crustaceans. It mainly feeds at dawn and dusk, relying on touch to sense prey, making it one of the few birds to feed in near darkness.
Reproduction: Black Skimmers nest in colonies on sandbars, beaches, or dredge spoil islands, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The female lays 1 to 5 eggs, which are then incubated for about 23 days. The chicks are semi-precocial, leaving the nest a few days after hatching but staying nearby for protection and feeding by the parents.
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Scientific Name: Leucophaeus atricilla
Length: 14–16 in
Wingspan: 39–43 in
Weight: 7.2-13.1 oz
The Laughing Gull is a medium-sized coastal gull that’s notable for its distinctive call that sounds like a high-pitched laugh, giving the bird its common name.
Appearance: Adult Laughing Gulls have a dark, almost black, head in the summer, with a grey body and black wingtips. In the winter, their heads turn white with a smoky gray mask. Their legs are reddish-black, and they have a long, red bill.
Diet: Laughing Gulls are omnivores, eating a varied diet that includes fish, insects, invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, and sometimes even human food waste. They are opportunistic feeders and are often seen foraging in garbage bins in coastal towns.
Reproduction: The Laughing Gull nests in large, noisy colonies. The female typically lays 2 to 4 eggs in a nest constructed from grass, sticks, or seaweed on the ground, often on islands. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, and after they hatch, the chicks stay in the nest for about 20 days before taking their first flight.
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus)
Scientific Name: Thalasseus maximus
Length: 18–20 in
Wingspan: 51 in
Weight: 12–16 oz
The Royal Tern is a large seabird recognized for its unique “crested” appearance and graceful flight along coastlines.
Appearance: The Royal Tern is predominantly white with a light gray back. It has a characteristic orange-red bill and a black crest on its head which becomes a complete cap during the breeding season. The slender, streamlined body and long, pointed wings of the Royal Tern make it an efficient flier and diver.
Diet: The diet of a Royal Tern primarily consists of small fish and invertebrates. It forages by hovering above the water and plunging down to catch its prey. The species is also known to scavenge from other birds, showcasing its opportunistic nature.
Reproduction: Royal Terns breed in large, densely packed colonies on islands. Nests are shallow scrapes in the ground, sometimes lined with vegetation or debris. A single egg is laid, which both parents incubate. After hatching, the chick joins a crèche (group of chicks) which is supervised by one or more adults, typically for about a month until it fledges.
Where to Spot Louisiana’s Water Birds
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, St. Martin Parish: The largest river swamp in the U.S., Atchafalaya is home to species like the Great Blue Heron, American White Pelican, the Brown pelican (spotted by its pale yellow head) and the Snowy Egret among other wetland birds who thrive in the wetland habitat, shallow ponds and dense vegetation
Barataria Preserve, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Jefferson Parish: The preserve’s marshes, bayous, and canals attract a wide range of aquatic birds including the Roseate Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and various species of ducks and breeding males and other migrating shorebirds.
Lake Martin, St. Martin Parish: Part of the Cypress Island Preserve, this lake is an excellent place to see Great Egrets, White Ibises, and a large nesting colony of Roseate Spoonbills.
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Parish: Sabine is one of the largest estuarine-dependent marine species nursery areas in the U.S, making it a hotspot for water birds such as the Reddish Egret, White-faced Ibis, and American Avocet.
Grand Isle, Jefferson Parish: This barrier island off Louisiana’s coast is a birding paradise, hosting a multitude of water birds, including the Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s state bird, as well as various species of gulls and terns.
Atchafalaya Basin is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. It is a critical habitat for numerous bird species, including the Anhinga, Black-Crowned Night Heron, and Great Egret.
Barataria Basin is a vast wetland located between the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche. Here, you can find a variety of bird species, such as the Roseate Spoonbill, Great Blue Heron, and the Reddish Egret.
The marshes within Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve also host a diverse array of water birds. Birds tend Species such as the Snowy Egret, White Ibis, and Tricolored Heron are commonly seen according to Louisiana Ornithological Society.
These coastal wetlands provide critical nesting and feeding habitats for these bird species and many more. They also serve as important stopover sites for migratory birds. However, these precious habitats are under threat due to a combination of sea-level rise, subsidence, and human alterations to the landscape, and concerted conservation efforts are required to preserve them.
Crawfish ponds are a prevalent feature of the agricultural landscape in Southern Louisiana, particularly in the southwestern region of the state, where they support a robust crawfish farming industry. Acadiana, which includes parts of Lafayette, St. Martin, and Vermilion Parishes, is a key area for crawfish farming.