Colonial Waterbirds

26 species of colonial waterbirds live on the Texas coast

Colonial Waterbirds are birds that gather in large groups called rookeries or colonies during nesting season.  Many species of birds seek out islands along the Texas coast to raise their young every summer.  By gathering together, they increase the likelihood of their chicks surviving.  A colony provides many eyes to lookout for predators and can sometimes drive smaller predators away. 

Terns, gulls, herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills and black skimmers are some of the species that form  colonies during nesting season.  Colonies are most often located on islands, but birds may also use marsh, high trees in swamps, peninsulas, mainland beaches or even urban habitats to nest.  Ground nesters sometimes use rooftops or gravel parking lots as a rookery site. Key characteristics for a rookery are: lack of predators, good foraging habitat nearby, proper nesting substrate/ vegetation and lack of human disturbance. 

Ground Nesters and Shrub Nesters

Colonial waterbirds can be split into two basic groups: ground or shrub nesters.  Ground nesters, like terns and black skimmers, like low elevation, low vegetation areas and create a nest by hollowing out a small depression in sand or shell to lay their eggs.  Ground nester eggs are always very well camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings. A few species of ground nesters, such as laughing gulls, construct nests of grass. Shrub nesters, such as herons and egrets, build nests from twigs, sticks and grass in shrubs or trees (or in some cases- prickly pear cactus!). Shrub nesters prefer to get their young a little higher off the ground to keep them away from predators.

Colonial Waterbird Species
Click on a species name to learn more

Brown Pelican

Least Tern

White pelican

Gull-billed Tern

Black skimmer

Forster’s Tern

Great Blue Heron

Common Tern

Little Blue Heron

Royal Tern

Tricolored Heron

Sooty Tern

Black-crowned Night Heron

Caspian Tern

Great Egret

Sandwich Tern

Snowy Egret

Roseate Spoonbill

Cattle Egret

Laughing Gull

Reddish Egret

Neotropic Cormorant

White Ibis

Double Crested Cormorant

White-faced Ibis


How you can help, right now