Gulf Restoration
Conserving the Nature of America

The Importance of the Gulf of Mexico and its Watersheds to Migratory and Beach-nesting Birds


The Gulf of Mexico is a globally unique ecosystem, with a diversity of habitats, fish and wildlife that make it one of the nation’s great natural treasures. Gulf habitats are essential to the annual cycles of many species of breeding, wintering and migrating waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds.


For Migrating Birds

The four flyways in North America are the Atlantic, Mississipi, Central and Pacific. Birds traveling three of these four flyways depend on the Gulf Coast:


For Beach-nesting Birds

The U.S. Gulf Coast is of particular significance to beach-nesting birds, species that breed on beaches, flats, dunes, bars, barrier islands and similar near-shore habitats. The northern Gulf Coast, from the Mississippi Delta of Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle which represents 18 percent of the southeastern U.S. coastline, supports a disproportionately high number of beachnesting bird species.

  • Sandwich terns: Breton National Wildlife Refuge off the Louisiana coast supports one of the world’s largest colonies of sandwich terns. These gregarious birds, marked by a black crest and black bill, are found almost exclusively along coastal areas and barrier islands. The northern Gulf Coast harbors about 75% of the population of sandwich terns in the southeastern United States.
  • Brown pelicans: Nearly half the southeastern population of brown pelicans live in the northern Gulf Coast, generally nesting on protected islands. The Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s state bird, has made a comeback in this region since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. It was recently removed from the Endangered Species List.
  • Wilson's plovers: The northern Gulf Coast is also home to about 25% of the southeast’s Wilson’s plovers. The medium-sized plovers, with heavy black bills, nest along beaches and salt marshes.
  • Black skimmers: 35% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Foster's terns: 41% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Gull-billed terns: 16% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Laughing gulls: 25% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Least terns: 42% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Royal terns: 36% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast
  • Snowy plovers: 22% of southeastern population found in Gulf Coast



A white bird with what looks like black spiky hair stands next to two young chicks

36% of the southeastern population of royal terns nest in the Gulf Coast. Photo: K. King, USFWS.

A northern pintail cleans its wings on water

The northern pintail is one of many species of migratory birds that use the Mississipi flyway. Photo: Dan Cox, USFWS.

Last updated: September 23, 2013