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Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Marine Sanctuaries Home Page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Home Page

Wings Over the Water

picture of brown pelicans at Anu NuevoMore than 180 different marine birds visit or live in the sanctuary, represented by two main groups: shorebirds and waders, and seabirds. Shorebirds and waders, such as sandpipers, plovers, avocets, herons and egrets, forage along wetlands and beaches of the sanctuary. Some seabirds, like albatrosses, and storm-petrels, remain far out at sea where they feed and rest, coming ashore only to breed. Coastal seabirds stay closer to shore and include Brown Pelicans, loons, cormorants, scoters, grebes and gulls.

Seabirds and shorebirds flock to the sanctuary for a variety of reasons:

  • Upwelling of nutrient rich waters teeming with anchovies, sardines, squid, krill and plankton provides rich feeding grounds for seabirds.
  • The shoreline and coastal wetlands provide critical feeding and resting habitat for shorebirds and waders. Elkhorn Slough, at the heart of Monterey bay, attracts the third largest concentration of shorebirds in California.
  • The sanctuary lies along the Pacific Flyway, the path taken by birds during their migration between southern wintering grounds in Central and South America to northern breeding sites along the North Slope of Alaska. It is also a convenient stop-off point for many migrating birds that come from as far away as Chile, New Zealand, Hawaii.
Threats to marine bird populations worldwide include competition for food with fisheries; entanglement in fishing gear; ingestion of marine debris and disturbance of roosting and breeding birds by watercraft, aircraft, humans and introduced species (especially cats, rats and foxes), environmental pollution and oil spills.

Check our sanctuary monitoring website to learn about marine birds identified as special status species, with reduced or declining populations in the sanctuary.

More information about seabirds

More information about shorebirds and waders

picture of black-footed albatross flying in MBNMS
Black-Footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) skimming the water in MBNMS