18 Types of Water Birds in North America (with Pictures)

There are several kinds of birds throughout the globe. Water birds are fascinating to observe. They are sometimes referred to as aquatic birds since they live in or near bodies of water. For aquatic birds, the maritime habitat is favorable.

Kingfishers and other coastal birds are among the most frequent water birds. These aquatic birds or water birds likewise contribute significantly to the lovely environment we live in.

Below is a collection of water birds, including names and photographs, as well as some detail that you might be familiar with.

Great EgretGreat Egret
Cattle EgretCattle Egret
Snowy EgretSnowy Egret
Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane
White-faced IbisWhite-faced Ibis
White IbisWhite Ibis
Common LoonCommon Loon
American CootAmerican Coot
Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant
Pied-billed GrebePied-billed Grebe
Eared GrebeEared Grebe
Brown PelicanBrown Pelican
American White PelicanAmerican White Pelican
Hooded MerganserHooded Merganser
Common MerganserCommon Merganser
Canada GooseCanada Goose

Types of Water Birds in North America

1. Great Egret

Great Egret

Characteristics to Look For:

  • The bird is a large white having long black legs.
  • With an S-shaped neck and a dagger-like yellow beak. Search for a greenish patch around their eyes as well as the bill’s core.
  • They fly with their necks curled in and their long legs trailing behind.

Great Egrets are among the most beautiful aquatic birds in the United States. During the mating season, they put on a display by growing long feathery plumes termed aigrettes, which they hold up while courting displays.

Indeed, these aigrettes are so lovely that Great Egrets were nearly driven to extinction in the nineteenth century since their feathers formed such lovely embellishments on women’s hats.

The National Audubon Society was founded to assist prevent these birds from being butchered. The Great Egret remains the organization’s emblem at the moment.

Great Egrets aren’t recognized for their wonderful songs. Look for a loud sound that seems like a croak (“kraak”). When you are startled, you might notice a quick “cuk-cuk-cuk” alarm cry.

2. Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Tiny heron with a yellow beak, which frequently rests with its neck pulled in.
  • Adults that do not reproduce are completely white and have black legs.
  • Adults in breeding plumage are white with yellow legs and golden plumage on their back, forehead, and chest.

Cattle Egrets are distinct from other water birds within the United States. Rather than spending time close to water, these birds prefer to spend their time on fields, where they graze for insects thrown up by grazing animals. It’s also usual to observe them hunting for ticks on cattle’s backs!

Cattle Egrets, however, really aren’t native to North America. Such herons are primarily from Africa; however, they arrived in the United States in the 1950s and since then have expanded throughout the nation. Their range is gradually growing as land is converted for farming and grazing.

Check for continuous, raspy “rick-rack” sounds at any time of the year.

3. Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Characteristics to Look For:

  • A medium-sized, all-white aquatic bird with a black dagger-like beak.
  • Their legs are black, while their feet are yellow.
  • A patch of yellow skin under their eye.

These lovely herons frequently use their yellow feet to mix up water or dirt in order to find hidden crustaceans, amphibians, or fish. When their food has been located, Snowy Egrets will go to any extent to complete the task.

Surprisingly, these aquatic birds will mate with other heron species, including Cattle Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Little Blue Herons. If anyone encounters a heron that visitors can’t identify, it might be a hybrid!

4. Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Characteristics to Look For:

  • The tall, grey bird has a long neck as well as legs.
  • The neck is white, and a red spot across the brow.
  • Flying with its neck extended and thus its legs trailing behind.

Sandhill Cranes are simple to identify across the United States if you travel to the correct environment. These huge, graceful water birds put on a show of fancy dance to impress a partner! It’s normal to watch a breeding male pumping his wings, bowing, stretching his wings, and leaping into the air, all for the name of affection.

The LOUD bugling cries of Sandhill Cranes are widely recognized.

These noises, in fact, maybe noticed almost 2 miles away and are provided both on the ground and when flying. They’ve evolved incredibly lengthy windpipes that literally coil into the chest, contributing to the low, booming pitch.

5. White-faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Waterbirds with maroon bodies and curved, long beaks. In the proper light, the wings resemble metallic greenish and copper.
  • Breeding adults get a naked band of pink skin at the bottom of their bills, bordered by a white border, while their legs are red.
  • The skin patches and white lines on the face are absent among nonbreeding adults, while the legs are greenish-black.

These lovely wading birds seem black at first sight. Scrutiny reveals a stunning combination of green, copper, and purple feathers. White-faced Ibises may be spotted across marshes in the western United States, wherein they dig their long beak into the muddy water in search of earthworms, insects, and crayfish.

These birds occasionally utilize man-made artifacts in their nests. Lighters, toys, and shotgun rounds have all been discovered!

You might hear a quiet “oink” that is frequently repeated when they are eating or flying.

6. White Ibis

Ibis White

Characteristics to Look For:

  • The bodies are white, and the legs are crimson. Red bills are long and curled.
  • Behind the bill and near the eye, there is an exposed area of red skin.
  • Watch for black wing tips during flying.

But they may be spotted farther inland. The greatest place in the United States to watch these water birds is along the ocean. White Ibises feed in huge groups across shallow marshes in search of crustaceans and insects.

These sociable aquatic birds dislike being alone. They not only eat, but they also nest in large groups, fly in flocks, and even take collective baths!

Their cry is not particularly melodious. When seeking food or flying, listen for a nasal scream.

Finally, I find it fascinating that White Ibis chicks were born with perfectly straight bills. They gradually curl during their first two weeks of life.

7. Common Loon

Common Loon

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Long bodies with a powerful, dagger-like beaks. They are sitting low in the water.
  • Adults that breed has a black forehead and a black and white checkered back.
  • Nonbreeding adults are substantially duller, with a grey back and head.

The common loon is among the most attractive aquatic birds in the United States.

These stunning birds are extraordinarily strong and quick swimmers, often catching fish in high-speed submerged chases. In reality, they have evolved solid skeletons (usually, bird bones remain hollow), making diving simpler because they are lesser buoyant.

Common Loons generally swallow their prey while still submerged to avoid other birds from snatching it. Loons possess rear-facing extensions within their mouth that sink inside and offer a stronghold to make sure the slippery prey doesn’t really flee once trapped.

The amazing, haunting noises these birds create are one of my favorite aspects about them. Look for a repertory of vocalizations that all mean something.

When scared, for example, they utilize tremolo calls. Males use yodeling to declare their territory. And their famed eerie wail calls aid married couples in locating one another.

8. American Coot

American Coot

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Apart from the slanted white bill, it’s all black.
  • The eyes are red.
  • Toes are not webbed and instead long and lobed.

American Coots are distinct aquatic birds that are common in the United States. They resemble ducks at first appearance, but they are really similar to Sandhill Cranes!

American Coots might walk pretty effectively on the ground since they lack webbed feet. However, do not let this mislead you into believing they can’t swim; they are Outstanding swimmers. Each of its lengthy toes includes skin lobes that aid in propulsion through the water.

These aquatic birds are quite loud. Listen for different croaks, squawks, and grunts.

9. Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Waterfowl have long tails and necks.
  • Apart from the yellow-orange skin surrounding the bottom of the bill, the bill is entirely black.
  • Bill is long and hooked. The eyes are a lovely turquoise tone.

Most people mistake Double-crested Cormorants for a hybrid between a loon and a goose because of their unusual appearance. These adept divers consume nearly entirely fish, which they capture with their highly adapted hooked bill underwater.

Looking for these aquatic birds on land, where their wings spread wide, is among the greatest methods to locate them across the United States. Because Double-crested Cormorants’ plumage is not waterproof, they must be dried after diving.

These birds form large communities in trees near bodies of water, where they collectively make their nests in a tiny cluster of trees. Sadly, there may be enough birds in such close quarters that their feces, well, guano, kills the trees!

Double-crested Cormorants have distinctive loud guttural growls similar to a huge walrus than a bird.

10. Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Small waterbird with a thin, heavy beak and nearly no tail.
  • It’s mostly brown. Adults that are breeding do have a vertical black band on their beaks.

These ubiquitous water birds may be spotted throughout the United States near lakes, freshwater marshes, and slow-moving rivers. From a distance, they resemble ducks; however, closer inspection reveals a short, thick beak and a blocky-looking skull.

Pied-billed Grebes are adept divers that feed on a variety of amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and fish. They are virtually well suited to the aquatic environment and are seldom seen outside of it. However, their aquatic abilities come with a price. They are incredibly ungainly on land and somewhat sluggish fliers.

The Pied-billed Grebe does not even deposit its eggs on the ground! They usually build a bowl-shaped nest made of decaying plants that sit directly atop floating vegetation. Aside from that, they possess beautiful infants having black and white faces.

These grebes might be difficult to identify since they often hide amid thick plants. Listening to their different noises might often help you identify one.

The most frequent cry is a loud, wailing “kuk-kuk-kuk-kaow-kaow.”

11. Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Small grebe with a black bill that is slender and straight. Eyes that are bright red.
  • Breeding adults are predominantly black; however, they have lovely golden plumage above their eyes.
  • Adults that do not reproduce do not have golden plumage. The color is mostly black, with white cheek spots, a grey neck, and white sides.
  • Eared Grebes are not just common water birds across the western United States; in addition to being the world’s most prolific grebe!

Surprisingly, when they molt each year, they are completely flightless for about 2 months! But since they are such terrible flyers, it doesn’t really matter because they like to swim to avoid predators anyhow.

They move a great distance for a bird that doesn’t want to fly and isn’t particularly adept at it! They may travel up to 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) to find their nesting sites and feeding sites.

Notably, before migrating south, the whole group of Eared Grebes pauses at one of some few salt lakes (Mono Lake, Great Salt Lake) to fatten up on brine shrimp and alkali flies.

Exceptionally during the mating season, when you could hear a rising whistle followed by a hiccup, these water birds are normally silent (ooEEK).

12. Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Large water bird with a long beak and neck.
  • On their massive neckband, they have brown skin.
  • The bodies are dark grey, with a white neck and a light yellow head.
  • A Brown Pelican is difficult to confuse around the United States because no other aquatic bird looks like it!

When I go to the beach, We like seeing Brown Pelicans gracefully soar just above the water’s surface. Whereas these aquatic birds are numerous now, they almost became extinct in the mid-20th century owing to DDT contamination.

These seabirds are regularly observed near the shore, diving headfirst into the ocean. These dives are designed to shock the nearby fish, which are subsequently picked up and consumed whole by their massive throat pouch.

13. American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Large white waterbird with a long beak and neck.
  • The bill has a yellow patch at the base that wraps over their eyes.
  • Breeding adults have an unusual plate that protrudes from the tip of the beak.

Because of their gigantic size, American White Pelicans are one of the biggest water birds mostly in the United States. They normally weigh 11 to 20 pounds (5.0 to 9.1 kilograms); however, their wingspan is amazing.

When fully expanded, the wings reach nearly 9 feet (2.7 meters) from base to tips, ranking second only to the California Condor across North America.

These pelicans do not dive to grab food like many other birds but rather sweep up fish with their massive neck pouches. Individuals often collaborate to herd fish to deep waters, making them simpler to capture.

Surprisingly, chicks who are still within the egg may squawk to express displeasure if the temperature rises or falls. Adults are typically deafeningly quiet.

14. Bufflehead


Characteristics to Look For:

  • Ducks with small bodies and huge heads.
  • Males possess white flanks and chests, as well as a big white band on the back of their heads. The back is dark. Their face is covered with iridescent purple to green feathers.
  • Females are brownish in color with darker skulls. Keep an eye out for the unique white cheek spot.

When observed in the United States, it’s difficult to misidentify these stunning aquatic birds. They spend up to a quarter of their time underwater hunting for aquatic crustaceans and insects, which they consume while still underwater. Be patient and continue checking the surroundings for these little birds to reappear after they dive.

Buffleheads are fussy nesters, only laying eggs within cavities. They nearly always utilize holes dug by Northern Flickers and, on rare occasions, Pileated Woodpeckers. They are losing nest grounds as a result of logging, although they easily accept properly placed nest boxes.

Buffleheads are often quieter than other ducks. Males may be heard making a squeaky whistle from the winter season through early spring.

15. Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Characteristics to Look For:

  • The beak of this little waterbird is long and thin.
  • Breeding males get a huge black crest with a broad white patch on either side. The eyes are yellow.
  • Females possess dark eyes and a brown coat with a somewhat lighter-colored crest that resembles a mohawk. Nonbreeding males resemble females, with the exception of their golden eyes.

Hooded Mergansers are among the favorite aquatic birds in terms of appearance. It’s a sight to observe a mating male with his enormous white and black crown erect. During the summer, search for these ducks in rivers and small ponds, whereas in the winter, they prefer liquified bays or beaches.

Their long, thin, serrated beak aids them in catching crayfish, aquatic invertebrates, and tiny fish. Regardless of its size, their meal is virtually always consumed whole. They hunt by sight underwater and also have eyesight characteristics that enable them to see properly even while submerged.

Females get an unusual habit in which they may hatch some of their eggs inside the nests of certain other Hooded Mergansers. While each bird may lay up to twelve eggs, nests with far more than 40 eggs have been discovered, enabling one duck to work much harder than many others.

16. Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Characteristics to Look For:

  • A medium-sized duck with a long, thin orange beak with a black point and dark eyes.
  • Males for mating have a predominantly white body, a black back, and a mallard-like green head.
  • Males and females have grayish-white bodies and cinnamon-colored heads.

Common Mergansers are readily distinguished from the majority of water birds in the United States because of their slender beak. Their main diet is fish, which they grab with their serrated beak; however, they also eat aquatic insects, including worms, crabs, mollusks, and snails.

Other birds attempt to take from Common Mergansers when they appear because they are so skilled at fishing. In fact, flocks of seagulls frequently accompany them in the hopes of snatching an easy meal. Even Bald Eagles have mostly been spotted stealing their prized catch!

These ducks typically nest in tree holes hollowed out by woodpeckers. Surprisingly, newborn ducklings are less than a day old when they jump from the opening to the ground when the mother leads them to the pond and instantly collect all of their own food.

18. Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Characteristics to Look For:

  • Large geese with a long black throat and an eye-catching white cheek band.
  • The body is brown, with a creamy white breast and underparts.
  • Their legs and feet are black.

Throughout the United States, Canada Geese are quite prevalent.

These water birds are undoubtedly familiar to you since they are at ease among humans and development. Search for them on lawns, parkland, agricultural fields, and golf courses where there are grasses or grains to consume.

I’m sure I’ve stepped in their “droppings” some few moments within my own garden when they come to consume corn from the feeding platform.

In fact, these geese have become so numerous that several people see them as pests due to the quantity of garbage they create! If you have a well-kept lawn extending all the way to the edge of the river, you invite these birds to come.

Check out this article on Types of Water Birds in Michigan.


Water birds will undoubtedly capture your attention. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many individuals wading through the water. The majority of them have not colored, yet they will draw your notice, such as the king-fisher.

And keep an eye out for the various species the next time you go. There are many of them! You want to learn more about your ecology from this list of various species of water birds.


What exactly is a huge water-loving bird?

These are aquatic or wetland birds situated in or near water in lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, and bays. Grebes, ducks, cormorants, sandpipers, herons, rails, loons, gulls, geese, and other birds are included in this category.

What bird looks like a cormorant?

Shags are tiny cousins of Cormorants. About half of their population in the UK is located at less than ten locations, rendering them a Red List species.

Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

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