Because the oceans cover more than 3/4 of the Earth’s surface, many birds have adapted to life over open water or along the coasts. Ocean birds, also called seabirds, develop adaptations for life on the ocean with its changes in temperature and wind, storms and lack of fresh water. Some seabirds, like the giant petrel, have salt glands that shed extra salt that they take in with salt water. Some, like the albatross, have long, narrow wings and long, pointed tails to help them save energy while flying vast distances at sea. Many have light underwings to make them invisible against the sky so they can sneak up prey in the water. Others have webbed feet for swimming and oil glands for keeping dry. Some, like the penguins in Antarctica, store fat under the skin to stay warm while swimming in frigid waters. Many can pull their feet inside their warm feathers while in flight.
Yet all seabirds have one important trait in common. They must come to land to breed. Seabirds may build giant nests of sticks, like the osprey, or just scratch a hollow in the soil or find a crack in a rock, like the petrels. Some, like the emperor penguin, use no nest at all, but incubate their egg on their feet with a flap of their belly over the top to keep them warm.
Seabirds eat a wide variety of foods. Though fish is their main prey, seabirds also feed on krill, squid, snails, mussels, sea urchins and even other birds’ eggs and chicks. Some seabirds are scavengers, eating whatever they can find including dead sea animals that float to the surface of the ocean. Though there may be fewer predators at sea, seabirds are vulnerable to oil spills, nesting habitat loss and the growing litter problem in the ocean. The survival of many seabird species is dependent on our care of our ocean habitats.
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