an adult double-crested cormorant
gathering nesting material
Stellwagen Bank hosts an incredible diversity of birds throughout the year. During research cruises or whale-watches, birds may be the most obvious and numerous animals spotted. From the gulls and terns of the harbors to marine ducks in the bay; from shearwaters and gannets on the Bank to migrating warblers resting on boats, they are a ubiquitous part of the environment that should not be ignored (whales or no whales). Their presence not only acts as an indicator of the general health and abundance of the local environment but, also offers an insight into the subtle differences between marine habitats.
This chapter looks into the lives of different, related groups of birds and how the different species within these groups relate to the habitats of Stellwagen and the surrounding waters. The sight of a particular bird may indicate habitat type, a shift in the seasons or changes in habitats thousands of miles away at their breeding grounds.
Species included here represent the array of birds that could be seen throughout the year during a cruise from shore. This includes the coastal birds spotted in the harbor to the pelagic birds on Stellwagen. Some are year-round residents, seasonal residents or passers-by during migration.
Considering the diversity of birds here, identification can get confusing. This chapter is not intended to be used as a strict field guide but, may prove helpful in sorting out the different species. Depending upon the sea state, binoculars may not be an option for picking out the subtle markings of a bird. Keen observation of behavior may prove more useful and, more rewarding. In other words, watch how the bird moves, how close to the water it flies, what it tries to feed on and the overall design of it's body. Remembering these characteristics may allow you to identify the bird but, also, goes a long way to understanding how the bird relates to the world around it.
If you are unfamiliar with these birds or are looking for something in particular check out all of these pages for background. Go to:
loons and grebes
cormorants and gannets
marine ducks and geese
gulls and terns
the auks: razorbills, murres and puffins
fulmar, shearwaters and storm-petrels