Birds of Wake Atoll

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Wilkes and Peale islands support large numbers of resident and migratory seabirds and visiting winter resident shorebirds and waterfowl. The open terrain and current lack of disturbance on the two islands is conducive for nesting seabirds.

  • Laysan Albatross

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    Best known for its gliding flight, awkward landings, and elaborate courtship rituals. 

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  • Black-Footed Albatross

    Black footed Albatross

    The black-footed albatross has a keen sense of smell, which it uses to locate food across vast expanses of ocean. It drinks seawater and excretes excess salt through glands above the eyes. 

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  • Wedge-Tailed Shearwater

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    The wedge-tailed shearwater emits an eerie, wailing call from its burrow during the night, comprising of an inhaling component, ‘OOO’, and an exhaling component ‘errr’. This ghost-like sound gives rise to the Hawaiian name for this species, ‘ua’u kani’, which means ‘calling or moaning petrel’.

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  • Masked Booby

    Masked Booby

    Although the masked booby regularly lays two eggs, it never raises two young. The first egg is laid four to nine days before the second, and the older chick always ejects the second from the nest. 

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  • Brown Booby

    Brown booby family

    The brown booby feeds by flying over the ocean looking for schools of fish, and then diving like a dart, with its wings streamlined against its body. 

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  • Red-Footed Booby

    Red-footed booby and chick

    Red-footed boobies are well adapted for diving and feature long bills, lean and aerodynamic bodies, closeable nostrils, and long wings which they wrap around their bodies before entering the water.  They use these attributes to plunge-dive and capture fish that they spot from above with their sharp eyes.  

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  • Great Frigatebird

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    Perhaps the most striking feature of frigatebirds is the male's red throat pouch, which the male inflates into a large red balloon during courtship displays.  

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  • Red-Tailed Tropicbird

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    The red-tailed tropicbird is a showy, white seabird related to boobies and frigatebirds. Adult males and females are mostly white, except for partial black eye ring and short eye line, black flanks, and black shafts of outer primaries; both sexes have long, narrow, tail feathers with red shafts.  

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  • Sooty Tern

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    Sooty terns nest in large, dense colonies consisting of thousands to a million pairs of terns. Individuals return to natal colony to breed, some long-term pair bonds have been documented, and breeders prefer to return to previous nest locations. Nests are shallow scrapes often lined with bits of shell or vegetation. 

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  • Gray-Backed Tern

    Gray-backed tern rotator

    Gray-backed terns breed on remote islands and atolls. Nests are constructed in a variety of habitats (e.g., rocky ledges, open, sandy beaches) but usually at the base of shrubs or refuse. Nests are typically shallow depressions in sand or gravel.

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  • Black Noddy

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    The black noddy typically remains within 50 miles of its breeding colonies year-round. Courtship consists of head nodding and fish transfers.

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  • Brown Noddy

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    The brown noddy is the largest member of the noddy family; they weigh twice as much as black noddies. Chicks reach adult weight in 18 days. Most chicks outweigh parents in six weeks.

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  • White Tern

    White tern chick

    The white tern is famous for laying its egg on a rock, a rock ledge, or a bare branch rather than in a nest. An egg laid in an exposed and precarious place results in a chick that must cling to the perch.

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  • Pacific Reef Heron

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    The Pacific reef-egret is widespread in coastal areas from Japan and Korea, through Southeast Asia to Australia and New Zealand. It also occurs on islands in the southwest Pacific, as far east as the Marquesas and Tuamotus Islands. 

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  • Pacific Golden Plover

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    This migratory shorebird breeds in western Alaska and Siberia and winters on islands across the Pacific Ocean, through southeast Asia, to northeastern Africa. It is uncommon in North America, found breeding in Alaska, and migrating and wintering in small numbers along the Pacific Coast. 

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  • Lesser Sand Plover

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    This species is fully migratory, with four definable groups migrating on a broad front to different wintering grounds.

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  • Wandering Tattler

    Wandering tattler

    This migratory shorebird can be seen bobbing and teetering among the rocks and waves during winter and migration 

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  • Gray-Tailed Tattler

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    The whistling call of the grey-tailed tattler has been described as a ‘tu-weet’ or ‘tu-whip’ when in flight, and a quick ‘tu-wiwi’ and ‘twiwiwi’ when calling in alarm.

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  • Whimbrel


    One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the Whimbrel breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia.

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  • Bristle-Thighed Curlew

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    This migratory bird is unique among shorebirds because it becomes flightless during their autumnal molt.  

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  • Ruddy Turnstone


    This migratory shorebird is a swift, strong flyer that travels in small flocks and covers long distances in a short amount of time – birds that departed St. George Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska, traveled to French Frigate Shoals in the Hawaiian Archipelago (a distance of 2,259 miles) in 3.5 days.

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  • Sanderling

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    This migratory shorebird gather in loose flocks to probe the sand of wave-washed beaches for marine invertebrates, running back and forth in a perpetual “wave chase.”  

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  • Pectoral Sanderling

    Pectoral Sanderling

    The pectoral sanderling (Calidris melanotos) is a large sanderling, but is quite variable in size. Its upper parts and breast are buff with brown streaks. The color ends abruptly on the lower breast and the belly is white. Its legs are yellowish green. Pectoral sanderlings are rare migrants in Micronesia. In 2007, 2 pectoral sanderlings were photographed in the wetlands. During the 2010/2011PRC monitoring surveys, 2 pectoral sanderlings were observed foraging in the wetlands and a single bird was observed foraging in a tidal channel adjacent to the wetlands in October.

  • Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper

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    The sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) is similar to the pectoral sanderling, but it is thinner and more reddish with a prominent chestnut cap and white eyebrow. The breast has a diffuse orange color and there are rows of chevrons along its sides (Pratt et al. 1989). The sharptailed sandpiper is considered an uncommon, but regular migrant to the Marshall Islands. In 2007, a total of 24 sharp-tailed sandpipers were observed on Wake Atoll. During the October/November 2010 PRC monitoring surveys, sharp-tailed sandpipers were observed in the wetlands during each survey, with a total of 56 occurrences recorded. In addition, 4 individuals were recorded on the exposed mudflats at the southern end of the lagoon. No sharp-tailed sandpipers were recorded in January/February 2011. A total of 4 sharp-tailed sandpipers were observed during one survey event on 11 November 2011. A sharp-tailed sandpiper was also observed in mudflats associated with a wetland adjacent to the Air Field 2013.

  • Ruff

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    The ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a large sandpiper with the male being much larger than the female. The female and the non-breeding male have grey-brown upperparts and primarily white underparts. They appear thick necked and small headed with long legs and a stocky body. The breeding male has variable brightly colored neck ruffs; however, this has not been recorded in the tropical Pacific. The ruff is found in mudflats and occasionally along shorelines. Two ruffs were recorded on 15 November 2011 and 1 was recorded on 27 February 2012 on Wake Island.

  • Dunlin

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    The dunlin (Calidris alpina) is a short-legged sandpiper with a long bill that is drooped at the tip. It has streaking on the neck, a reddish brown back and cap, and whitish underparts with a black belly. The bill and legs are dark. It is found in association with mudflats and sandy beaches usually with other small sandpipers. One dunlin was recorded on Wake Atoll on 27 February 2012.

  • Long-Billed Dowitcher

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    The long-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) is a large, plump, long-billed sandpiper with a prominent strip of white up the center of its back. It feeds in freshwater ponds and less often in tidal flats. The longbilled dowitcher is a rare bird on Wake Atoll, with only two records from 2003 through 2007. During the 2010/2011 PRC surveys, a single long-billed dowitcher was observed in two separate incidents in October/November 2010. The bird was first observed in a small wetland on the southwestern corner of Wilkes Island, and then recorded roosting at dusk in the Wilkes Island bird nesting area (PRC 2011). One long-billed dowitcher was observed during the 15 November 2011 survey.

  • Northern Shoveler

    The northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) is a medium-sized duck with a spatulate bill, blue forewing, green area on the wing (speculum), and orange legs. The adult male has a green head, white breast, chestnut belly and black rump. The female is mottled brown except for on the upper wing. Documented observations of northern shovelers on Wake Atoll are uncommon. Two female northern shovelers were observed in 1996 and 1 male was observed in 1999. During the 2010/2011 PRC surveys, 1 female northern shoveler was observed in wetlands on four separate occasions.

  • Northern Pintail

    The northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a slender long-necked duck with a long tail. It has a brown speculum with a trailing white edge. The male is gray with a brown head and white breast. It has a very long pointed tail and a white line up the side of the neck. The female is mottled brown and has a shorter tail than the male. The northern pintail usually occur in low numbers on Wake Island. In October 2007, a flock of 26 northern pintails were observed. During the October/November 2010 monitoring conducted by PRC, northern pintails were observed on every visit to the wetlands with a total of 30 females recorded. A single female northern pintail was observed with a male green-winged teal (Anus crecca) on three separate occasions in the Wilkes Island wetland in February 2011. One female northern pintail was observed in wetlands during site visits in October 2013.

  • Eurasian Wigeon

    The male Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope) is gray with a chestnut head with a buff forehead and crown. It has a pinkish breast, white patch on the forewing and black posterior bordered with white. The female is dark brown and rusty or gray on the head. Eurasian wigeons have been recorded in three separate occurrences from 1999 through 2007, with a total of 9 individuals observed. During the October 2010 PRC surveys, a single female Eurasian wigeon was observed in the ponds on two separate visits, but flew into the tidal channels, or exposed mudflats when approached.

  • Eurasian Green-Winged Teal

    The Eurasian green-winged teal (Anas crecca) is a small, gray-brown duck with a green patch on the wing. The male’s head is chestnut with a broad green streak behind the eye. The bill and legs are gray. The female is mottled brown and has a green patch on the wing and a faint stripe above the eye. Eurasian green-winged teals were recorded on three separate occasions in February 2011 surveys conducted by PRC. Observations included a single male together with a female northern pintail on Wilkes Island. This was the first recorded occurrence of this species on Wake Atoll.