Audubon Members Wade Through Memories of Their Favorite Water Birds

Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, Atlantic Puffins, and more...

In August, we asked a group of our loyal members (who had opted to participate in Audubon's Donor Insight Panel survey) to tell us more about the coolest water bird species they've ever seen and what was so cool about it. Water birds come in many varieties: there are seabirds like the albatross or puffin. There are shorebirds like sandpipers and Whimbrels. And there are all manner of birds that live near wetlands, lakes, and rivers like kingfishers, herons, and many songbirds. Some birds, like Ospreys and Piping Plovers live near both fresh- and saltwater.

Nearly 350 bird lovers shared their coolest water bird stories with us. Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, and Atlantic Puffins were the most mentioned species. 

Here are 10 of our favorites:

Great Blue Heron (above) 

"I always get a thrill when I see a Great Blue Heron fly over my house on the way to a nearby river or pond. The beautiful wing beats, the perfect, straightly aligned feet. Wonderful!"

—Betsy S., Monmouth Junction, New Jersey

American White Pelican

"That's too hard! I've seen so many cool water birds it's hard to pick just one. For purposes of the survey, I'll share this story. The coolest water bird STORY, I have is about driving for three hours through the Oregon high desert, filled with sage brush and not much else. Just as the road curved and rose toward a plateau, we looked up and saw a flock of white pelicans! In the desert! The car topped the plateau and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) basin was revealed on the other side, huge ponds and wetlands as far as we could see. It’s a critical stop on the Pacific flyway. It was my first trip to Malheur, and after seeing those pelicans, I knew it would be a special place. That was probably in 1987 or 1988."

—Linda M., Seattle, Washington

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

“Perhaps, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. To watch them flock feeding and eke out their living in the middle of the Gulf of Maine fills one with admiration and humility.”

—Ron V., Naples, Florida


“I think the Anhinga is a magnificent animal. Often called the "Snake Bird" or "Water Turkey," it is a wonderful creature to watch as it swims elegantly underwater, then puts on a display as it tosses a speared fish up and swallows it head first. They are beautiful as they spread their wings to dry after a fishing trip and amazing to watch as they fly high in the thermals enjoying the views of their feeding grounds. I also love watching them during breeding season as the young quickly grow.”

—Bert A., Melbourne, Florida

Green Heron

"I am very taken by the Green Heron — although they are a relatively common sight in our area, they are supremely mysterious. My second choice would be the Osprey, partly on account of the spectacular nests that they construct — the nest nearest to us resembles nothing so much as a junk pile, built on a channel marker platform out in the river!"

—Alexander L., Middle River, Maryland

Common Loon

"The Common Loon is a big and beautiful bird to begin with — add to that diving for minutes on end, and even fish-wranglin'! They have an intimate relationship with our family. Every year we make Father and Son, Grandfather, Son-in-law, and Grandson trips to the pristine Forked Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. This is where we will see and hear these majestic waterfowl, fish beside them, watch their graceful antics, and listen to their soulful cries late at night around a campfire on an island. We remark that commercials are shot to look like this. The recording of the loon's call is synonymous with wilderness, nature and wildlife. Here, we can live it. And this gentle and faithful bird accompanies useach year, with siblings and cousins and offspring, for our finest family tradition."

—Scott O., Sharon Springs, New York

Black-necked Stilt

"Stilts! They are elegant and awkward and improbable and beautiful at the same time."

—Lauren M., Springfield, New Jersey

Piping Plover

"The Piping Plover, or any of the small plovers. Watching them nest, hatch and fledge their young in an extremely unforgiving, harsh, exposed, danger-filled environment with no weapon other than camouflage at their disposal is very inspirational."

—Joel M., East Marion, New York

Reddish Egret

"Mom and Dad were once birding and talking about which bird they relate to. For Mom, it was the owl (I've forgotten which owl). Dad was a very energetic man, always running about taking care of important things (he was also head of the Space program at Santa Barbara Research). He didn't feel like the owl was the right answer for him, and couldn't think of anything in particular. Then they came around a corner, and there was a Reddish Egret, running around, looking ahead of him, behind him, and generally scurrying in a busy but effective way. They both started laughing. That was Dad. I've loved Reddish Egrets ever since."

—Janet S., San Diego, California

Great Egret

"For sheer attitude, it would have to be a beautiful Great Egret named 'Eddie' who is the coolest water bird I’ve ever seen. He started landing on the porch railing at our friends' beach house they rented for the first three months of each year in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Someone who rented there previously must have been interactive with him because he came and visited and would walk up and down, watching us as much as we watched him. He came every morning and at least once more during the day. The neatest part is Eddie came around every year within a few days of our friends arriving for their yearly stay for at least seven years. I looked forward to time with Eddie every year we visited. They no longer rent there and we all think about the amazement the new renters felt when he came to visit for the first time for them. Our friends left instructions for those who wanted to get to know him. It was such a great experience I’ll never forget."

—Leslie F., Aurora, Illinois

If you are interested in participating in our Donor Insight Panel Survey, please email for more information.


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