What Are Waterbirds?

The term waterbird refers to bird species dependent on aquatic habitats to complete portions of their life cycles.

Waterbirds can be further characterized by other non-technical terms relating to where they typically forage:
These terms are not exclusive.

seabirds — primarily feeding in open ocean

coastal waterbirds — primarily utilizing the interface between land and both salt and fresh water

wading birds — principally feeding by wading in fresh or brackish waters

marshbirds — often secretive, feeding in primarily fresh waters
The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan focuses on seabirds, coastal waterbirds, wading birds, and marshbirds (View Species List). Other aquatic birds are known by these terms

shorebirds— typically found along shorelines of oceans, rivers, and lakes, commonly characterized by long bills, legs, and toes.

waterfowl— ducks, geese and swans, many of which are traditionally harvested.

In North America, separate initiatives exist for waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. You can find out more about the various bird initiatives in North America at the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) website.

Outside of North America, the term “waterbirds” usually refers to all aquatic bird species (in keeping with the terminology of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands).