At first glance Long Island's coastal environment might seem to be a
fairly homogeneous place - simply the interface between land and water.
Yet, a closer, more detailed look reveals a great diversity of habitats.
These range from salt marshes fringing the shore of sheltered embayments
to intertidal mud- and sandflats. They include subtidal bay bottoms,
both muddy and sandy, some of which provides a substrate for
ecologically important submerged aquatic vegetation such as eelgrass.
There are the sandy beaches that take the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean's
Even the ocean itself, an environment that might seem to be pretty
homogeneous, turns out to be remarkably varied, given to differences in
depth, salinity, temperature, and surface and subsurface currents. These
differences often result in local concentration of food resources that
are readily exploited by pelagic (ocean loving) birds. It is not
surprising, therefore, that this diverse coastal environment provides
suitable habitat to a surprising diversity of birds.
Following is a list of the birds that might be seen and studied in Long
Island's coastal environment. The list is, of course, somewhat
arbitrary. Birds that are occasional or are vagrants were excluded since
the likelihood of seeing them is very slim. Also, birds that frequent
habitats near the coast were excluded. These include, for example,
waterfowl that exclusively frequent freshwater ponds near the coast but
don't typically occur on brackish or salt water. The criteria used as to
whether a species was included or not can be summed up in a question "Is
there a reasonable chance I could see this bird if I made the effort at
the right time of year?" If the answer is a definite or probable "no"
then the bird was left off.
Family Gaviidae (Loons)
CommonLoon (Gaviaimmer) - a common winter
visitor in Long Island coastal waters, often numbering in the thousands.
A small number of non-breeding birds spend the summer. Chunky, dark with
a stout bill. Can often be heard yodeling as spring approaches.
Red-throatedLoon (Gaviastellata) - a
common bird during the winter months, also numbering in the thousands;
more lightly colored and slimmer than the Common Loon with a slimmer
bill that it holds in a distinctive position above the horizontal-
giving the bird a "snooty" appearance.
Family Podicipedidae (Grebes)
HornedGrebe (Podicepsauritus) - common
winter visitor; birds overwintering fly east during fall migration from
their breeding grounds in western Canada.
Red-neckedgrebe (Podicepsgrisegena) - an
uncommon winter visitor; larger than the more common Horned Grebe with a
distinctive white vee on face.
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
NorthernFulmar (Fulmarusglacialis) - a common pelagic in the winter; rarely seen from
land. Tubenose on bill separates it from similar appearing gulls.
SootyShearwater (Ardennagrisea) - a
common pelagic seabird especially in late spring; sightings are almost
guaranteed during offshore birding trips. Occasionally seen from land.
GreatShearwater (Puffinusgravis) - a very common pelagic seabird seen throughout the
warmer months, when, like the preceding species, it is "overwintering",
away from its southern hemisphere breeding grounds.
Cory'sShearwater (Calonectrisborealis) - a
common pelagic seabird in late summer. Can sometimes be seen from land.
ManxShearwater (Puffinuspuffinus) - an
uncommon to occasional pelagic seabird during the summer months;
probably found offshore during the winter too.
AudubonShearwater (PuffinusIherminieri) -
regularly seen in small numbers offshore during the summer months; it is
the smallest of the shearwater species that occur in coastal Long
Family Hydrobatidae (Storm-Petrels)
Wilson'sStorm-Petrel (Oceanitesoceanicus) - probably the most common pelagic species seen off
Long Island; flocks have been known to number in the thousands. Has
unique flight behavior, often dipping its feet on the water, lending the
appearance that it is walking on the water. Old-time mariners called the
bird Mother Carey's chicken, a derivation from mater cara, the Virgin
Mary, a reference to its habit of walking on the water surface. The word
petrel is derived from "Little Peter", a reference to St. Peter who was
able to walk on water with Christ's help. Breeds in Southern hemisphere
- less abundant pelagic than the ubiquitous Wilson's Storm-Petrel;
fairly common through the warmer months. Nests throughout northern
Atlantic as far south as Massachusetts. Has distinctive forked tail.
Family Sulidae (Boobies & Gannets)
Northern Gannet (Morusbassanus) - a member
of the Booby family; Common pelagic bird during spring and fall
migration and as an overwintering species. Can often be seen from land
especially at Montauk Point and along the south shore. Regular in small
numbers in Long Island Sound. Spectacular plunges into schools of bait
fish sending up plumes of spray. All age classes can be seen.
Family Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
BrownPelican (Pelecanusoccidentalis) -
twenty years ago the sighting of a brown pelican in Long Island's
coastal waters would have been cause for celebration. Now they are seen
with some regularity in the summer along the south shore, often flying
in small groups in typical flight behavior - low to the water in single
file. They have expanded their breeding range northward over the past
few decades and now breed on the DELMARVA peninsula.
Family Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants)
GreatCormorant (Phalacrocoraxcarbo) - a
regular winter visitor to Long Island. Is larger than, and has a
distinctive white flank patch from, the following species.
Double-crestedCormorant (Phalacrocoraxauritus) - an abundant coastal bird. It is unlikely not to be
seen on any trip to the coast. Has recovered from past persecution to
the point that contend it has become a pest. Has returned as breeding
bird on Long Island.
Family Ardeidae (Bitterns, Herons, & Allies)
AmericanBittern (Botauruslentiginosus) -
an uncommon breeding bird in some of the Island's larger coastal marshes
where it also is known to overwinter. Individuals are fairly regularly
seen along Dune Road west of the Ponquogue Road.
LeastBittern (Ixobrychusexilis) - also an
uncommon breeding bird in coastal wetlands both fresh and salt. A very
rare winter visitor.
Black-crownedNight-Heron (Nycticoraxnycticorax) - the more common of the two night heron species
found in coastal Long Island. Quite a few colonies or rookeries exist on
Long Island; often seen in the marshes fringing the south shore bays; is
also common at Sunken Meadow State Park situated on the Long Island
Sound coastline. As the name suggests it is active at night and during
dusk when birds can be seen flying to feeding grounds, often vocalizing
quock! quock! as they go by.
Yellow-crownedNight-Heron (Nycticoraxviolacea) - much less common than the preceding species. Can
easily be identified by distinctive diamond-shaped cheek patch. Has more
catholic diet than the previous species, depending almost exclusively on
TricoloredHeron (Egrettatricolor) -
formerly known as the Louisiana Heron. Like the following species more
often seen in coastal areas on the western end of Long Island, although
even here it is not really common.
Several pair breed every year in mixed rookeries.
- an uncommon summer resident more often seen in coastal areas in
western Long Island; also breeds in low numbers. First year birds are
all white and might be confused with snowy egrets.
SnowyEgret (Egrettathula) - extirpated as
a breeding bird in New York State due to plume hunting a century ago the
Snowy Egret has since recovered. It is a common breeding bird in mixed
colonies in many coastal areas of the Island.
GreatEgret (Ardeaalba) - an unmistakably
large, white, and graceful wading bird. Nearly the size of a great blue
heron. Rare at the turn of the century, the Great Egret is now a common
breeding bird here in mixed species colonies.
GreatBlueHeron (Ardeaherodias) - a
common summer resident often seen feeding in tidal wetlands throughout
the south shore bays, yet no known breeding colonies or rookeries occur
here; a rookery existed on Gardiner's Island decades ago.
Family Threskiornithidae (Ibises & Spoonbills)
GlossyIbis (Plegadisfalcinellus) - has
experienced an impressive range expansion northward over the past half
century. Was considered an accidental visitor until the 1940's. First
began breeding in New York in 1961. Several hundred pairs now nest on
Long Island. Especially common along the Island's southwestern coast.
Family Anatidae (Geese, Swans, & Ducks)
CanadaGoose (Brantacanadensis) -
ubiquitous as a breeding bird, spring and fall migrant, and winter
visitor. Found in protected sections of bays and harbors and in
freshwater ponds near the coast.
Brant (Brantabernicla) - common in the western
bays of the south shore where it overwinters in flocks that sometimes
include several hundred individuals. Quite regular in Jones Inlet. Has
largely recovered from precipitous decline due to the destruction of
eelgrass, its primary food source, in the 1930's.
MuteSwan (Cygnusolor) - this graceful
bird, a Eurasian species, was introduced to Long Island in the early
twentieth century. It has expanded its range considerably since then. It
is found primarily in protected bay areas although it is occasionally
been found in more exposed areas such as Long Island Sound. It is highly
aggressive, leading to growing concern about its impact to other
waterfowl and aquatic vegetation.
TundraSwan (Cygnuscolumbianus) - a winter
resident, found in a few freshwater ponds along the coast on the South
AmericanBlackDuck (Anasrubripes) -
a common breeding bird and winter resident in sheltered waters near
coastal marshes. Its amethyst purple wing speculum is among the most
beautiful of all waterfowl.
Mallard (Anasplatyrynchos) - a common breeding
duck and winter resident in freshwater ponds adjacent to the coast.
Occasionally found in sheltered areas of bays and harbors.
GreaterScaup (Aythyamarila) - hard to
differentiate from the following species, both of which are referred to
as "bluebills" by hunters. Large overwintering rafts, numbering in the
hundreds, occasionally in the thousands, occur on south shore bays. A
movement of 250,000 birds was reported for Great South Bay on 3 December
LesserScaup (Aythyaaffinis) - common
overwintering bird but hard to separate from preceding species. Has a
greater affinity toward freshwater where
KingEider (Somateriaspectabilis) - an
uncommon overwintering sea duck, most often found at Montauk Point.
Usually no more than half a dozen birds occur. Adult male is stunning!
CommonEider (Somateriamollissima) - over
the past decade has been steadily increasing; now a common overwintering
sea duck with rafts often numbering in the thousands.
HarlequinDuck (Histrionicushistrionicus) -
an uncommon overwintering sea duck species. Has affinity for rough
water. Look for it at Montauk Point and near south shore jetties. Up to
a dozen individuals reliably seen along Point Lookout side of Jones
Inlet. Beautiful species!
SurfScoter (Melanittaperspicillata) - a
common overwintering sea duck, often seen from south shore beaches and
at Montauk Point.
White-wingedScoter (Melanittafusca) - a
very common, chunky sea duck with unmistakable white wing speculums.
Overwinters in Long Island numbers may reach the tens of thousands. Seen
in ocean from south shore beaches and at Montauk Point. The most common
BlackScoter (Melanittanigra) - all dark
bird. Least common of the three scoter species which overwinter in Long
Island's coastal environment.
Oldsquaw (Clangulahyemalis) - an abundant,
unmistakable sea duck. Unlike the overwhelming majority of waterfowl
species, the oldsquaw has distinctive breeding and nonbreeding plumage.
Common at Montauk Point, in eastern Gardiner's Bay and Long Island
Bufflehead (Bucephalaalbeola) - this attractive
little saltwater duck is a common overwintering species in bays and
CommonGoldeneye (Bucephalaclangula) - a
common sea duck occurring primarily in Long Island Sound, Gardiner's Bay
and at Montauk.
Red-breastedMerganser (Mergusserrator) - a
very common overwintering duck found both in sheltered bays and harbors
and in the open ocean.
Osprey (Pandionhaliaetus) - a once again common
breeding bird in Long Island's coastal areas, having rebounded from DDT
poisoning, especially in the Peconic system, where early records
indicated was once one of the species' global strongholds.
Readily takes to nesting platforms, now common features in salt marshes
and coastal spits.
BaldEagle (Haliaeetusleucocephalus) - once
breeding on Long Island (last record on Gardiner's Island in 1930), it
is now most often seen during fall migration and as an occasional
overwintering bird. Historical records indicate that dozens of
overwintering birds were shot each year on Long Island. On the rebound.
NorthernHarrier (Circuscyaneus) - found in
coastal marshes year round. Breeds in low numbers along south shore.
Hunting behavior of bird flying low to ground with wings rocking in a
shallow dihedral is diagnostic.
Sharp-shinnedhawk (Accipiterstriatus) - a
common fall migrant along the south shore barrier beach. Most
individuals are immature birds.
Cooper'sHawk (Accipitercooperi) - same as
AmericanKestrel (Falcosparverius) - a
common fall migrant along the south shore barrier beach. Can be seen
hunting here in characteristic fashion by hovering over suitable habitat
in search of prey.
Merlin (Falcocolumbarius) - common migrant in the
fall on the south shore barrier islands.
PeregrineFalcon (Falcoperegrinus) -
occasional to common fall migrant along the south shore. Especially
likely to be seen from Oct.1 - Oct 15.
FamilyRallidae (Rails, Gallinules,
ClapperRail (Ralluslongirostris) - regular
breeding bird in the marshes found along the south shore. Less common in
marshes fringing Long Island Sound or Peconic Bay.
AmericanCoot (Fulicaamericana) - common as
an overwintering bird in freshwater and brackish coastal ponds.
- a spring and fall migrant especially common in sand- and mudflats
edging the south shore bays.
- an uncommon fall migrant in coastal salt meadows (was once much more
abundant having never fully recovered from intensive market hunting at
turn of the century).
SemipalmatedPlover (Charadriussemipalmatus) - this attractive "darker cousin" to the piping
plover is an abundant spring and fall migrant along the south shore. So
named due to the partial webbing between the toes.
PipingPlover (Charadriusmelodius) - one of
the few nesting shorebird species. Once common, populations plummeted to
the point the east coast population was listed as threatened under the
Endangered Species Act. Due to intensive protection efforts, species is
increasing. Most common on ocean facing beaches along the south shore.
AmericanOystercatcher (Haematopuspalliatus) - this very distinctive shorebird is an uncommon
breeding bird along the south shore. It first started breeding on Long
Island in the late 1950's. Often seen feeding at extensive blue mussel
beds immediately west of the Ponquogue Bridge in Shinnecock Bay.
GreaterandLesserYellowlegs (Tringamelanoleuca&flavipes) - both species, difficult
to separate in the field, are common spring and fall migrants. Can best
be separated by call.
Willet (Catoptrophorussemipalmatus) - this large
shorebird breeds along the south shore where it is often seen flying
around, issuing its piercing pill-will-willet!, pill-will-willet! call.
SpottedSandpiper (Actitusmacularia) - a
common bird in coastal areas. It breeds here as well as being a spring
and fall migrant. Its shallow rapid wingbeats while flying and its
constant bobbing of its tail while walking are diagnostic.
Whimbrel (Numeniusphaeopus) - this large
attractive shorebird is an uncommon spring and fall migrant.
HudsonianGodwit (Limosahaemastica) - an
uncommon migrant in the fall.
RuddyTurnstone (Arenariainterpres) - a
common spring and fall migrant. Also overwinters in small numbers. Lives
up to its name as it turns over stones and other beach debris in search
of prey items.
Sanderling (Calidrisalba) - common spring and fall
migrant, and a common winter visitor. Often seen on high energy beaches
feeding on portion of beach just exposed by retreating waves.
RedKnot (Calidriscanutus) - this
attractive and chunky shorebird is a common spring and fall migrant as
it travels between its arctic breeding grounds and southern South
American wintering grounds.
SemipalmatedSandpiper (Calidrispusilla) -
a common spring and fall migrant. One of the "peep" sandpipers.
WesternSandpiper (Calidrismauri) - an
uncommon fall migrant. Hard to tell apart from some of the other peeps.
LeastSandpiper (Calidrisminutilla) - this
smallest of the peeps is a common spring and fall migrant.
White-rumpedSandpiper (Calidrisfuscicollis) - an uncommon to common fall migrant.
Baird'sSandpiper (Calidrisbairdii) - an
uncommon fall migrant along the coast.
PectoralSandpiper (Calidrismelanotos) - an
uncommon spring and fall migrant.
PurpleSandpiper (Calidrismaritima) - a
common winter visitant frequenting rocky jetties and breakwaters.
Reliable on the jetties that frame the south shore inlets.
Dunlin (Calidrisalpina) - a common spring and fall
migrant; also overwinters in small numbers. Longer down-curved bill is
distinctive among the calidrid sandpipers.
(Limnodromusgriseus&scolopaceus) - very
difficult to distinguish in the field so they are often identified as a
dowitcher species. The short-billed is the more common occurring in both
spring and fall while the long-billed is only seen in the fall.
While they are hard to tell apart, it is easy to identify them as
Wilson'sPhalarope (Phalaropustricolor) -
an uncommon spring and fall migrant.
Red-neckedPhalarope (Phalaropuslobatus) -
uncommon to common spring and fall migrant offshore although small
numbers can sometimes be seen from land.
RedPhalarope (Phalaropusfulicaria) - a
common migrant offshore in spring.
FamilyLaridae (Skuas, Gulls,
PomarineJaeger (Stercorariuspomarinus) -
of the three jaeger species that have been seen along Long Island’s
coast, this species is observed most often, especially on pelagic trips
in the autumn.
LaughingGull (Larusatricilla) - a common
breeding bird in Long Island's southwestern coast and a common summer
and fall visitant.
Bonaparte'sGull (Larusphiladelphia) - a
common winter visitant to Long Island, often frequenting inlets.
Especially reliable on the west side of Jones Inlet where a flock
involving many hundred birds congregates each year. Occasionally joined
each winter by extralimital Black-headedGull (Larusridibundus) and
Ring-billedGull (Larusdelawarensis) - a
very common to abundant bird year round although it doesn't breed here.
Birds found here during the summer are non-breeding adults.
HerringGull (Larusargentatus) - the common
gull found along our coast; breeds here and is joined by winter
visitants. Has significantly expanded population over the past several
decades, access to food at landfills thought to be a major contributing
LesserBlack-backedGull (Larusfuscus) - uncommon but predictable winter visitant.
GreatBlack-backedGull (Larusmarinus) - our largest gull; an abundant breeding bird that first
began to breed on Long Island in the 1940's. Often nests with Herring
Black-leggedKittiwake (Rissatridactyla) -
an uncommon winter visitant most often seen at Montauk.
CaspianTern (Sternacaspia) - the largest
tern species in North America, this bird is an occasional spring and
fall migrant. A few birds seem to be found most falls at Mecox Bay.
Breed in Great Lakes region.
RoyalTern (Sternamaxima) - a regular fall
migrant along the south shore. Particularly reliable at Shinnecock and
RoseateTern (Sternadougalii) - a common
breeding bird on the east end of Long Island with several populations
including the well-studied population at Great Gull Island By the
American Museum of Natural History. Also seen during fall migration. Has
been placed on the federal Endangered Species List as an Endangered
CommonTern (Sternahirundo) - the common
tern found on Long Island breeding at several dozen coastal sites.
Colony on Great Gull Island numbering about 8,000 birds is the largest
in the western hemisphere!
Forster's Tern (Sternaforsteri) - a local breeding
bird in southwestern coast of Long Island. Common fall migrant.
LittleTern (Sternaantillarum) - this
smallest North American tern is a common breeding bird on Long Island
with several dozen colonies found along the coast.
BlackSkimmer (Rhynchopsniger) - this
wonderful and distinctive bird is a common breeding bird on Long Island
with several hundred breeding pairs scattered at various coastal sites
along the south shore.
FamilyAlcidae (Auks, Murres,
Thick-billedMurre (Urialomvia) - an
occasional winter visitant at Montauk Point.
Razorbill (Alcatorda) - an increasingly regular
winter visitant seen at Montauk Point and along the south shore.
SnowyOwl (Nycteascandiaca) - A regular
winter visitant most often to coastal areas especially along the south
shore barrier islands.
Short-earedOwl (Asioflammeus) - an
uncommon breeding bird, this day flying owl likes to hunt in open areas
such as over fields and salt marshes. Most reliably seen along Dune Road
in Westhampton. This attractive owl has a distinctive flight behavior
appearing like a moth in flight.
Belted Kingfisher - a common breeding bird often seen hunting over
sheltered saltwater embayments in classic hovering style. A vocal
species, the bird's rattle call is often discerned before being seen.
NorthernFlicker (Colaptesauratus) - a
sometimes abundant fall migrant along the south shore barrier beach.
FamilyCorvidae (Jays, Magpies&Crows)
AmericanCrow (Corvusbrachyrhyncos) - an
abundant year-round bird often seen foraging in coastal areas.
FishCrow (Corvusossifragus) - impossible
to separate in the field from American Crow's based on marks, the fish
crow can be distinguished by its more nasal #caa#, as if a American Crow
with a head cold. Common breeding bird in coastal areas.
HornedLark (Eremophilaalpestris) - a local
breeding bird and common winter visitant in coastal areas. Flocks
involving several dozen birds can sometimes be seen feeding in open
TreeSwallow (Tachycinetabicolor) - a
common breeding bird, this handsome metallic blue-green swallow often
nests along the coast, readily using nesting boxes placed in open areas
such as vegetated sandy spits. Also common in the spring and especially
common in the fall along the south shore barrier islands where it is not
unusual to see flocks involving several thousand birds massing and
swirling together. Their #funneling# behavior in which they spiral
downward at dusk into phragmites reed beds for nighttime roosting is a
sight not soon forgotten.
BankSwallow (Ripariariparia) - a locally
common breeding species. Bank swallows nest in colonies building their
burrows in which they place their nests in bluff faces and road cuts.
Several colonies utilize the bluffs fronting on Long Island Sound. Other
populations uses the bluffs on the west side of Robin's Island and on
the south side of Montauk. Also seen during spring and fall migration.
BarnSwallow (Hirundorustica) - a common
breeding bird, often seen along the south shore during the summer.
During fall migration, like the tree swallow, sometimes massing in large
A number of songbirds or passerines (passeriformes), can be found
in woodlands and thickets along the coast and on the south shore barrier
island system. Indeed, during the peak of spring and autumn migration
the south shore barrier islands can be very productive for seeing
several dozen species of songbirds. Only a few of the common species are
mentioned but many less common ones can be found with some reliability
during certain times of the year.
MarshWren (Cistothoruspalustris) - a
widespread breeding bird in salt marshes throughout the coastal zone.
AmericanPipit (Anthusrubescens) - an
uncommon winter visitant; as a migrant it can be common but given its
erratic movements is unpredictable.
YellowWarbler (Dendroicapetechia) - this
beautiful, bright yellow songbird is a common nesting bird in thickets
on the south shore barrier islands.
Yellow-rumpedWarbler (Dendroicacoronata) -
a common to abundant winter visitant to the south shore barrier islands
where it feeds on bayberry.