43 Water Birds That Live in Louisiana! (ID Guide)

What kinds of water birds can you find in Louisiana?

Water birds in Louisiana

Visit any lake, river, or wetland, and you are almost certain to see some type of bird in the water, whether it’s a duck searching for food in the shallows or a heron stalking prey along the shore.

43 water bird species in Louisiana:


Here is how the below list is organized. Click the link to jump straight to that section!


Ducks, Geese, & Swans:


#1. Mallard

  • Anas platyrhynchos

Water birds in Louisiana

  • Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.
  • Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
  • Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when standing or flying.

My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are the most common water birds in Louisiana!

Mallard Range Map

mallard duck range map

Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find these water birds in our swimming pool every summer and must chase them away so they don’t make a mess on our deck! ๐Ÿ™‚

When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we havenโ€™t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.


#2. Canada Goose

  • Branta canadensis

Water birds in Louisiana

  • Large goose with a long black neck and a distinctive white cheek patch.
  • Brown body with a pale white chest and underparts.
  • Black feet and legs.

Canada Geese are extremely common water birds in Louisiana.

I’m sure you probably recognize them, as they are very comfortable living around people and human development. Look for them wherever there are grasses or grains to eat, such as lawns, parks, farm fields, and golf courses. I know I have been guilty of stepping in their “droppings” at least a few times in my own backyard as they come to eat corn from my feeding station. ๐Ÿ™‚

Canada Goose Range Map

canada goose range map

In fact, these geese are now so abundant many people consider them pests for the amount of waste they produce! If you have a manicured lawn maintained to the water’s edge, you have an open invitation for these birds to visit.

So many people, including Canadians, call them Canadian Geese, but they are not. They are Canada Geese!

Listen for a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. They have even hissed at me for accidentally approaching a nest too closely.


#3. American Wigeon

  • Mareca americana

Water birds in Louisiana

  • Compact water birds with round heads. Blue-gray bills that are tipped in black.
  • Males are mostly brown but have a distinctive green band behind their eyes and a white crown.
  • Females have brown bodies overall, with a grayer-colored head.

American Wigeons are numerous, but they prefer quiet lakes and marshes away from people. Their diet consists of more plant matter than other ducks, and they will even go to farm fields to feed, similar to geese. Their short bill provides a lot of power to help pluck vegetation with ease!

American Wigeon Range Map

american wigeon range map

Since they can scare easily when approached, one of the best ways to see these water birds in Louisiana is to listen for them! Males give a 3-part nasal whistle (whew-whew-whew) at any time of the year, which sort of sounds like a kazoo (listen below)! Females don’t whistle, but they do produce a harsh grunt quack.


#4. Northern Pintail

  • Anas acuta

Water birds in Louisiana

  • Slender ducks with long tails and necks and a pale black-gray bill.
  • Males have cinnamon-brown heads, gray bodies, and a white throat and breast.
  • Females have plain tan heads and rufous-brown plumage on their bodies.

Northern Pintails have a long neck that exaggerates their extremely pointy tail (hence the name) when in flight. Even when floating on water, its tail sticks out further from its body than its head. Non-breeding males and all females have shorter but still prominent pintails.

Northern Pintail Range Map

northern pintail range map

The best place to find these water birds in Louisiana is in wetland habitats away from people. Wildlife refuges are perfect places to start. They tend to stick to shallower areas near the edges of lakes and ponds. Interestingly, they are also proficient at walking on land, so youโ€™ll find them cleaning farm fields of barley, wheat, rice, and corn leftovers.

Males have a unique call, which sounds a bit like a train whistle. Females utter low-pitched quacking “kuk” notes.


#5. Northern Shoveler

  • Spatula clypeata

northern shovelers male female

  • Males have reddish-brown flanks, green heads, a white chest, black backs, and yellow eyes.
  • Females are brown, and sometimes, you can see a bluish shoulder patch.
  • Both sexes have distinctive bills, which are large and wide!

If you only glance at their green heads, casual observers in Louisiana might accidentally think these water birds are Mallards. But upon closer review, you should notice the ENORMOUS spoon-shaped bill, which is how Northern Shovelers got their name.

Northern Shoveler Range Map

northern shoveler range map

They use their large bill to shovel and sift through mud and sand to find tasty tidbits like crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects. Interestingly, their bill has over 100 tiny projections on the edges called lamellae that help filter out the food they want to eat.

Males make a guttural “took-took” sound during courtship when alarmed and in flight. Females make a nasally-sounding quack.


#6. Redhead

  • Aythya americana

redhead ducks

  • Both sexes have steep foreheads leading down to their black-tipped gray bill.
  • Males have a distinctive cinnamon-red head with yellow eyes. Gray body and black chest.
  • Females are brownish overall with a paler face. Has dark eyes.

In Louisiana, Redheads are among the more sociable water birds you will find, especially in winter. It’s common to see them gathered together in enormous flocks, sometimes thousands strong, in relatively large lakes.

Redhead Range Map

redhead duck range map

Interestingly, female Redheads practice a bit of brood parasitism, which means they will lay some of their eggs in the nests of other duck species and let them raise those hatchlings! What’s interesting is that they also build their own nests and raise these hatchlings themselves. Talk about playing the odds!

Males make a cat-like “whee-uogh” or “keyair” call when trying to court a female. When threatening another Redhead, the males also emit a low, trilling “rrrrr.”


#7. Common Goldeneye

  • Bucephala clangula

common goldeneyes

  • Males have a dark green head, a bright yellow eye, and a distinctive white cheek patch. The body is mostly white, with a black back and rump.
  • Females have a brown head, a short dark bill with a yellow tip at the end, and a pale yellow eye. Look for their white neck collar and grayish bodies.

These water birds are expert diving ducks in Louisiana. Common Goldeneyes can stay underwater for up to a minute in length as they search for their prey, which includes aquatic invertebrates, fish, and fish eggs, along with seeds and tubers from submerged vegetation.

Common Goldeneye Range Map

common goldeneye range map

Luckily, their population has remained strong and stable. One of their biggest threats is that they are cavity nesters and rely upon forestry practices that don’t cut down dead trees. Many dedicated people have put up nest boxes in their breeding range to help provide more adequate nesting spots.

Many people commonly refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler” because of the distinctive whistling noises their wings make when flying. Both males and females are generally silent ducks except during courtship.


#8. Red-breasted Merganser

  • Mergus serrator

red breasted mergansers male female

  • Slim ducks with long bodies and necks and a long, thin bill.
  • Breeding males have a dark green head with a spiky-looking crest. Cinnamon-colored chest and red eyes.
  • Females and non-breeding males are greyish-brown overall.

Red-breasted Mergansers breed in boreal forests across much of North America, where they can be found on many inland lakes. During winter, these sea ducks migrate south and spend most of their time just off the coast, although it’s possible to find them in just about any large, unfrozen body of water.

Red-breasted Merganser Range Map

red breasted merganser range map

Fish are their primary food source, and they need to eat roughly 15-20 per day to supply their energy demands. To catch this amount of fish, it’s estimated they need to make about 250 dives per day! Sometimes, they will help each other out, and individuals will work together to herd minnows to shallower water, which makes the fish easier to catch.

Did you know that birds that primarily eat fish typically taste horrible? Because of this, Red-breasted Mergansers and the other merganser species found in Louisiana are not usually hunted. It’s also why you don’t find anyone trying to eat a penguin!


#9. Gadwall

  • Mareca strepera

Kinds of ducks

  • Males have an intricate pattern of gray, brown, and black feathers, which look like white-fringed โ€œscales.โ€ Brown head and dark grey or black bill. The back is covered with medium and dark brown feathers. Males have a dark bill.
  • Females are mottled shades of brown with a dark orange-black bill. They look similar to female Mallards.

Gadwalls are easy water birds to overlook in Louisiana!

Unlike most other species, males don’t sport any patches of blue, green, or white plumage. Look for them in small ponds that have lots of vegetation.

Gadwall Range Map

gadwall range map

Gadwalls have a funny habit of stealing food from diving ducks upon surfacing, with American Coots being their favorite victim! This behavior is seen more often in the summer, where animal matter can make up to 50% of their diet, whereas it drops to around 5% in winter.

If you hear someone burping and you’re near water, it may be a male Gadwall. Their short, reedy calls are often described as “burps.”


#10. Blue-winged Teal

  • Spatula discors

blue winged teal male and female

  • Males have a head that is bluish with a white band in front of the eye. Black bill and black wings. The body is brown with black spots.
  • Females have brown bodies. Look for a dark eyeline and crown on their head.

Blue-winged Teals are found in shallow wetlands across Louisiana. These water birds get their name from the beautiful blue shoulder patch only visible in flight! Just as pretty is the green plumage below the blue on the wing.

Blue-winged Teal Range Map

blue winged teal range map

Believe it or not, these beautiful waterfowl are the second most abundant duck in North America, behind only (you guessed it) the Mallard. Blue-winged Teal are a popular species for hunters, although the number of birds taken per year is monitored closely to ensure the population stays strong.

Males produce a high whistled “tsee-tsee.”


#11. Green-winged Teal

  • Anas carolinensis

green winged teal

  • Males have chestnut-brown heads and a green ear patch. Beautiful gray-barred bodies with vertical white stripes on each side.
  • Females have a dark eye-line and are mottled brown throughout.
  • Both sexes have a green patch on their wing, visible in flight and most of the time when resting.

Green-winged Teals are one of the smallest water birds you will find in Louisiana. They are only 12-15 inches (31-39 cm) in length and weigh between 5 and 18 ounces (140-510 g).

Green-winged Teal Range Map

green winged teal range map

These birds often travel and hang out with other species. Look closely for the smallest duck in a mixed flock, and there is a good chance it’s a Green-winged Teal. Even females, which look similar to female Mallards, should stand out because they are noticeably smaller!

Males give a short, clear, repeated whistle, which is a unique sound for a duck if you ask me! Females often give a series of quacks at any time of the year.


#12. Wood Duck

  • Aix sponsa

wood ducks

  • Males have very intricate plumage. Look for the green crested head, red eyes, and chestnut breast with white flecks.
  • Females have brown bodies with a grayish head, which is also slightly crested. White teardrop eye patch and a blue patch on the wing.

Walt Disney used to say that โ€œthe world is a carousel of color,โ€ and few waterfowl have taken this more to heart than the male Wood Duck. In fact, it looks like an artist used every color to paint a duck with green, red, orange, lime, yellow, buff, rose, brown, tan, black, white, gray, purple, and blue coloring.

Wood Duck Range Map

wood duck range map

This is one of the few water bird species in Louisiana you may see in a tree! Wood Ducks use abandoned tree cavities for nesting, but they also readily take to elevated nesting boxes.

When hatchlings leave the nest for the first time, they often have to make a giant leap of faith (up to 50 feet / 15m) to the ground below! You have to watch the video below to believe it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Interestingly, Wood Ducks are perfectly evolved for their life spent in trees. Their claws are powerful, which allows them to perch and grasp onto branches!

The most common sound heard from Wood Ducks is when they are disturbed. I’ve often accidentally come upon them only to hear them flying away saying “ooeek-ooeek” loudly!


#13. Bufflehead

  • Bucephala albeola

bufflehead male female

  • Small ducks with large heads.
  • Males have white chests and flanks and a large white patch on their heads. Dark back. Iridescent purple-green plumage on their face.
  • Females are mostly brownish with a darker head. Look for the distinctive white cheek patch.

It’s hard to misidentify these striking water birds when seen in Louisiana.

They spend up to half their time foraging underwater, looking for aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans, which they eat while still submerged. When they dive, be patient and keep scanning the area for these small birds to resurface.

Bufflehead Range Map

bufflehead range map

Buffleheads are picky nesters, and they will ONLY lay eggs inside of a cavity. They almost exclusively use holes excavated by Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers. They are losing nest sites due to logging, but they do take readily to nest boxes.

Overall, Buffleheads are more silent than other ducks. In late winter to early spring, it’s possible to hear the males make a squeaky whistle.


#14. Hooded Merganser

  • Lophodytes cucullatus

hooded merganser male and female

  • Small water bird with a long, slender bill.
  • Breeding males have an unmistakable large black crest with a large white patch on each side. Yellow eyes.
  • Females have dark eyes and are brown overall with a slightly lighter colored crest, which almost looks like a mohawk.

Appearance-wise, Hooded Mergansers are among my favorite water birds in Louisiana. Seeing a breeding male with its large black and white crest erected is a beautiful sight.

Hooded Merganser Range Map

hooded merganser range map

Their long, thin bill is serrated, which helps them catch small fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects. Their food is almost always swallowed whole, regardless of size. They hunt underwater by sight and have vision adaptations that allow them to see quite clearly when submerged.

Females have an interesting behavior where they may lay some of their eggs in other Hooded Mergansers’ nests. While each bird can lay up to a dozen eggs, nests have been found with more than 40 eggs, making one duck work much harder than others.


#15. Canvasback

  • Aythya valisineria

canvasback duck male female

  • A relatively large diving duck with a black breast, black tail, and a pale gray body.
  • Males have red-brown heads and red eyes.
  • Females are duller overall, with a brown head and black eyes.

Canvasbacks are large diving ducks that rarely ever go to dry land. In fact, they even sleep while floating and build their nests in masses of floating vegetation!

Canvasback Range Map

canvasback range map

Canvasbacks are omnivores that eat everything from insects and mussels to plant tubers and seeds. They can dive up to 7 feet (2.1 m) deep, looking for aquatic vegetation, which they rip off with their strong bills.

These mostly silent water birds have had their populations fluctuate over the last 100 years. The loss of massive amounts of wetland habitat to development caused a decline in numbers, along with the loss of their primary food source (wild celery) disappearing in many places. But overall, their population has remained steady since the 1980s.


#16. Ruddy Duck

  • Oxyura jamaicensis

ruddy duck

  • Breeding males are blue-billed and white-cheeked. A stiff black tail is typically erect. Look for the light blue bill.
  • Females are tawny and soft brown, except for the darker cap. Females (and non-breeding males) have a black, scoop-like bill.

Ruddy Ducks are among the most interesting water birds in Louisiana!

First, the males in their breeding plumage are unmistakable and look like no other duck. It’s hard to miss their bright blue bills and extremely thick necks.

Ruddy Duck Range Map

ruddy duck range map

Ruddy Ducks are much better swimmers than flyers. When they feel threatened by a predator, they much prefer to dive and swim away than take to the air.

Males also have a unique way of attracting females. They will beat their bill against their neck so hard that it forces air through the feathers, which creates a swirl of bubbles in the water. To finish off this display, they emit a belch-like sound!


#17. Snow Goose

  • Anser caerulescens

snow goose

  • Most Snow Geese are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
  • Pink legs.
  • Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.

Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas during the breeding season, away from human civilization. Most people only get the pleasure of seeing this abundant goose in Louisiana when they migrate south in fall and winter.

Snow Goose Range Map

snow goose range map

Look for these water birds in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it’s usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!

In fact, one of the most impressive things you will watch today is the video below, which shows an ENORMOUS flock of Snow Geese. It’s hard to fathom how many birds are traveling together!

As you can probably hear from the video above, Snow Geese are one of the noisiest waterfowl you will encounter in Louisiana. Their nasally, one-syllable honk can be heard at any time of day or night, at any time of the year!


#18. Ross’s Goose

  • Anser rossii

Geese and Swans species

  • Small, stocky goose that is completely white, except for black wingtips. They are slightly larger than a Mallard duck.
  • A stubby red-orange bill that has a gray base.
  • Legs and feet are also red-orange.

Ross’s Goose looks very similar to the Snow Goose, except they are smaller and have a shorter neck and stubbier bill. It’s common for these two species to travel together in the same large flocks!

Ross’s Goose Range Map

ross goose range map

Populations of Ross’s Goose have been increasing due to climate change. As their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic are warming, the snow cover has been reduced, which increases plant growth. More plants mean more food for Ross’s Goose, which leads to more babies being born and surviving!

During the non-breeding season, these water birds migrate south and can be seen in Louisiana in marshes, lakes, and farm fields, where they enjoy eating leftover crops.

If you see a flock of white geese flying overhead, listen for Ross’s Goose, which gives a distinctive “keekkeek keek” call. It will sound higher in pitch than a Snow Goose.


#19. Greater White-fronted Goose

  • Anser albifrons

greater white fronted goose

These birds breed in the arctic tundra but then migrate south for winter. Look for these large geese in Louisiana in large flocks in wetlands, lakes, and farm fields.

Greater White-fronted Goose Range Map

greater white fronted goose range map

Greater White-fronted Geese have INCREDIBLY strong family bonds. Mated pairs migrate with each other and stay together for many years. Their offspring even stick around for longer than most other species, and it’s not unusual to see the young with their parents through the next breeding season.

Their flight call is relatively easy to identify. Listen for a two to three-syllable sound that resembles laughing.


#20. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

  • Dendrocygna autumnalis

black bellied whistling duck

  • Unlike most other ducks in Louisiana, males and females look the same.
  • Bodies are mostly cinnamon-colored. Reddish bill and long red legs.
  • Gray face and black belly. White patch on the wings.

Using their long legs, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks spend a lot of time out of water walking or perching on fences or in trees. In fact, they even nest in trees in old woodpecker holes.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Range Map

black bellied range map

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have an incredibly accurate name. Obviously, their bellies are black, but the “whistling” name comes from the unique sounds they make. Listen for a soft, high whistle that has a long first note and several shorter ones that follow.


#21. Fulvous Whistling-Duck

  • Dendrocygna bicolor

fulvous whistling ducks

  • Males and females look similar.
  • Mostly cinnamon-colored, except for white lines on their sides and a blackish back.
  • Dark bill and legs.

Appearance-wise, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks resemble small geese with their plump bodies and long legs.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck Range Map

fulvous whistling duck range map

In Louisiana, they are most likely found near rice fields, crayfish farms, or flooded pastures. These places provide both food and an ideal water depth for them, which is less than 20 inches. Interestingly, these ducks never bred here until the start of rice cultivation in the early 20th century.

As the name suggests, these ducks give a high-pitched whistle, often heard while flying.


Herons, Ibises, and Cranes:


#22. Great Blue Heron

  • Ardea herodias

great blue heron

These water birds are typically seen in Louisiana along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it is pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “s” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.

Great Blue Heron Range Map

great blue heron range map

Most of the time, they will either be motionless or slowly moving through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and other birds.

Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, nearly all the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!


#23. American Bittern

  • Botaurus lentiginosus

american bittern

  • A medium-sized, stout water bird that is a buffy brown color.
  • The underparts are white with brown streaks.

Consider yourself lucky if you can spot an American Bittern!

These herons live in freshwater marshes and are extremely secretive and perfectly camouflaged for their habitat.

American Bittern Range Map

american bittern range map

American Bitterns are most often seen standing motionless, waiting for a fish, invertebrate, amphibian, or reptile to wander near. Once their prey gets close enough, their head darts quickly to grab the victim to swallow headfirst. Interestingly, indigestible parts don’t pass through their digestive system but instead are regurgitated as pellets!

Sound is one of the best ways to find these water birds in Louisiana! During the breeding season, listen for a loud, odd-sounding “oong-KA-chunk” call, which has a liquid sound. (Listen below)


#24. Green Heron

  • Butorides virescens

green heron

  • Small heron with a long, dagger-like bill.
  • Their back is gray-green. The head and neck are chestnut-brown, except for the green-black cap on the head.
  • The neck is commonly drawn into their body.

This small water bird is found in Louisiana in any wet habitat that includes lots of vegetation, which provides places for them to stay hidden. You will most often see them foraging at dawn or dusk, as they prefer to keep out of sight during most of the day.

Green Heron Range Map

green heron range map

The first time I heard the “skeow” call of an alarmed Green Heron in the marsh behind my house, I had no idea what I heard because it was so unique. But luckily, these sounds are easy to learn, and now I can easily identify these herons when visiting most wetlands.


#25. Great Egret

  • Ardea alba

great egret

Great Egrets are large water birds found in Louisiana. These herons are stunning and especially put on a show during breeding season when they grow long feathery plumes called aigrettes, which are held up during courtship displays.

Great Egret Range Map

great egret range map

In fact, these aigrettes are so beautiful that great Egrets were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because these feathers made such nice decorations on ladies’ hats. The National Audubon Society was formed in response to help protect these birds from being slaughtered. To this day, the Great Egret serves as the organization’s symbol.

Slightly smaller than a Great Blue Heron, this species eats almost anything that may be in the water. The list includes reptiles, birds, amphibians, small mammals, and countless invertebrates.


#26. Black-crowned Night Heron

  • Nycticorax nycticorax

black crowned night heron

  • A relatively small, stocky, compact heron.
  • Appears a bit hunchbacked, as it often tucks its neck into its body.
  • Black head and back, which contrast against its white belly and gray wings.

Black-crowned Night Herons are common in wetlands across Louisiana. In fact, they are the most widespread heron in the world, but they are often hard to actually locate and see!

Black-crowned Night Heron Range Map

black crowned night heron range map

As their name suggests, these herons are most active at dusk and during the evening. While the sun is out, they spend the day hiding amongst brush and vegetation near the water’s edge. By foraging at night, these birds avoid competition from other heron species!

When surprised or under duress, Black-crowned Night Herons give a loud, barking “quawk. While at their nesting colonies, you can hear a variety of other croaks, barks, hisses, screams, clucks, and rattles.


#27. Snowy Egret

  • Egretta thula

snowy egret

  • A completely white, medium-sized water bird with a black dagger-like bill.
  • They have black legs, but their feet are yellow.
  • A yellow patch of skin beneath their eye.

These beautiful herons often use their yellow feet to stir up water or mud to help them uncover hiding invertebrates, amphibians, or fish. Once their prey has been found, Snowy Egrets have no problem running their food down to finish the job!

Snowy Egret Range Map

snowy egret range map

Interestingly, these water birds will breed with other heron species, such as other similarly sized birds like Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets. So, if you see a heron that you can’t seem to identify, it may be a hybrid!


#28. Sandhill Crane

  • Antigone canadensis

sandhill crane

If you go to the right habitat, Sandhill Cranes are easy to spot in Louisiana. These water birds are large, elegant, and put on some fancy dancing while trying to attract a mate! It’s common to see a breeding male pump their wings, bow, stretch their wings, and jump into the air, all in the name of love. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sandhill Crane Range Map

sandhill crane range map

Sandhill Cranes are well known for their LOUD bugling calls.

In fact, these sounds can be heard over 2 miles away and are given both on the ground or while flying. They have adapted extremely long windpipes that actually coil into the sternum, which helps produce the low, loud pitch.

One thing that amazes me about Sandhill Cranes is how long they live. The oldest one on record was at least 36 years old, as it was banded originally in 1973 and then found again in 2010!


#29. Least Bittern

  • Ixobrychus exilis

least bittern

  • A small heron with a hunchbacked appearance and a long pointed yellow bill.
  • Unlike most other heron species, male and female Least Bitterns look different.
    • Males: Extremely dark green back and crown.
    • Females: Dark brown back and crown.

Least Bitterns are the smallest heron you will find in Louisiana!

Not only are these water birds small, but they can be tough to see. Least Bitterns blend in perfectly to their wetland environments and seem to appear out of the reeds or cattails. To find one, you will need lots of patience and a bit of luck. ๐Ÿ™‚

Least Bittern Range Map

least bittern range map

Surprisingly, Least Bitterns can be found searching for food in fairly deep water. Unlike other herons that wade through the water, these birds are light enough to grasp onto reeds, which allows them to hunt while being suspended in midair! You can see this behavior in the video below:


#30. White-faced Ibis

  • Plegadis chihi

white-faced ibis

  • Maroon water birds with a long curved bill. Wings appear metallic green and bronze in the right light.
  • At the base of the bill, breeding adults have a bare patch of pink skin surrounded by a white border. Red legs.
  • Non-breeding adults lack the skin patch and white border on the face. Greenish-black legs.

At first glance, White-faced Ibises appear black. But upon closer inspection, you will see a beautiful mixture of green, bronze, and purple plumage.

These beautiful wading birds are found in marshes across Louisiana, where they can be found digging their long bill into mud, looking for earthworms, insects, and crayfish.

White-faced Ibis Range Map

white faced ibis range map

These birds sometimes use human-made objects in their nests. Everything from lighters to dolls to shotgun shells has been found!

While they are feeding or flying, you may hear a soft “oink,” which is often repeated.


#31. Little Blue Heron

  • Egretta caerulea

little blue heron

  • Adults: Have a slate-gray body and a purple-maroon head and neck.
  • Juveniles: During their first year, these herons are completely white!
  • Look for a two-toned bill, regardless of the bird’s age, which is gray with a black tip.

These water birds are found in shallow wetlands in Louisiana.

Little Blue Herons are patient hunters and will stay motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to pass by them. While waiting, they keep their dagger-like bill pointed downwards to be prepared for the moment a fish, amphibian, insect, or crustacean appears.

Little Blue Heron Range Map

little blue heron range map

As you can see above, juvenile Little Blue Herons look completely different than adults! It’s thought that these birds adapted this white plumage so they can be tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who catch more fish. Hanging out with large flocks of white herons also probably helps with avoiding predators. ๐Ÿ™‚

Little Blue Herons are mostly silent, but it is possible to hear them squeaking when alarmed. They also emit various screams and croaks while nesting in a colony.


#32. White Ibis

  • Eudocimus albus

white ibis

  • White bodies and red legs. The red bill is long and curved.
  • A bare patch of red skin behind the bill and around the eye.
  • When flying, look for black wing tips.

Although they can be found more inland, the best spot to see these water birds in Louisiana is near the coast. White Ibises typically forage together in large groups in shallow wetlands, looking for crustaceans and insects.

White Ibis Range Map

white ibis range map

These social water birds don’t like to be alone. In addition to feeding, they nest in large colonies, fly in flocks, and even take group baths!

Their call is not very musical. Listen for a nasally honk given while looking for food or flying.

Lastly, I find it interesting that White Ibis chicks are born with completely straight bills. Over their first two weeks of being alive, they slowly curve. ๐Ÿ™‚


#33. Wood Stork

  • Mycteria americana

white birds

Wood Storks are incredibly tall water birds in Louisiana, standing over 3 feet tall. They also have a large wingspan that is typically between 5 – 6 feet from tip to tip. They are usually seen in marshes or swamps looking for food, which includes fish and crustaceans.

Wood Stork Range Map

wood stork range map

Wood Storks are not common, and you usually need to visit a large wetland to find one. Wildlife refuges and preserves tend to be great places. But luckily, because of their large size and unique head and bill, they are easy to identify when seen.

And my kids were happy to hear I don’t share the same parenting techniques as the Wood Stork. To keep their nestlings cool when it becomes too hot, parent storks regurgitate water all over their babies. ๐Ÿ™‚


Loons, grebes, and other water birds:


#34. Common Loon

  • Gavia immer

common loon

  • Long bodies with strong, thick, dagger-like bills. They sit low in the water.
  • Breeding adults have a black head and a black and white checkerboard back.
  • Non-breeding adults are much duller and have a uniformly grayish back and head.

Common Loons are one of my FAVORITE water birds in Louisiana.

These gorgeous birds are strong and fast swimmers who catch fish in high-speed underwater chases. They have even adapted solid bones (most bird bones are hollow), which makes it easier to dive since they are less buoyant.

Common Loon Range Map

common loon range map

To help prevent other birds from stealing their food, Common Loons typically swallow their prize while still underwater. And to ensure the slippery fish doesn’t escape once caught, loons have rear-facing projections inside their mouth that sink in and provide a tight grip.

One of my favorite things about these birds is the wonderful, eerie sounds they make. Listen for a repertoire of vocalizations, which all signify something. LISTEN BELOW!


#35. Herring Gull

  • Larus argentatus

types of gulls

  • Breeding adults have light gray backs, white heads, white undersides, and black wingtips and may have dusky marks on their heads during the winter.
  • They have yellow eyes, dull pink legs, hefty bills, and barrel chests.

Herring Gulls are the familiar, quintessential “seagull” in Louisiana. They occupy farmland, coasts, bays, beaches, lakes, piers, and landfills. They’re most abundant on the coast and surrounding large lakes and river systems.

If you spend time at the beach, youโ€™ve probably noticed Herring Gulls waiting for you to drop your snack! In addition to popcorn and chips from humans, they consume fish, crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, marine worms, smaller birds, eggs, carrion, and insects.

The population of Herring Gulls declined steeply during the 19th century because of overhunting. While their range and population recovered during the 20th century, overfishing, oil spills, and pesticide contamination have reduced some populations.


#36. Spotted Sandpiper

  • Actitis macularius

  • Adults have a grayish-brown back, plain white breast, and pale yellow bill in winter.
  • Breeding adults develop dark brown speckles all over their bodies.

Spotted Sandpipers are active foragers and have a distinctive hunting style. They walk in meandering paths, suddenly darting at prey such as insects and small crabs. They bob their tail ends in a smooth motion almost constantly.

Unlike most shorebirds in Louisiana, female Spotted Sandpipers perform courtship displays and defend territories.

Females are sometimes polyandrous and mate with more than one male. The males will form their own smaller territories within the female’s territory and defend them from one another.

While it is still a common species, Spotted Sandpiper populations have declined in the last several decades. The decline is primarily caused by compromised water quality due to herbicides, pesticides, and other run-off pollution.


#37. American Coot

  • Fulica americana

american coot

  • Entirely black, except for a white sloping bill.
  • Red eyes.
  • Toes are NOT webbed, but instead, they are long and lobed.

American Coots are unique water birds that are abundant in Louisiana.

At first glance, they appear quite like a duck, but they are actually more related to Sandhill Cranes!

American Coot Range Map

american coot range map

Because they don’t have webbed feet, American Coots can walk quite well on land. But don’t let this fact fool you into thinking they can’t swim because they are EXCELLENT swimmers. Each of their long toes has lobes of skin that help them propel through the water.

These water birds are quite vocal. Listen for a variety of squawks, croaks, and grunts.


#38. Double-crested Cormorant

  • Nannopterum auritum

double crested cormorant

Double-crested Cormorants look incredibly unique, with many people thinking they appear to be a cross between a loon and a goose. These expert divers eat almost exclusively fish, which they catch underwater with their perfectly adapted hooked bills.

Double-crested Cormorant Range Map

double crested cormorant range map

One of the BEST ways to find these water birds in Louisiana is to look for them on land with their wings spread out. Double-crested Cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers, so after swimming, they have to dry them.

Large colonies of these birds gather in trees near water, where they all build their nests in a small cluster of trees. Unfortunately, there can be so many birds so close together that their poop ends up killing the trees!

Double-crested Cormorants emit unique, deep guttural grunts, which I think sound more like a large walrus than a bird. Listen below!


#39. Pied-billed Grebe

  • Podilymbus podiceps

pied bill grebe

  • Small, chunky water bird with a short, thick bill and almost no tail.
  • Mostly brown. Breeding adults have a vertical black stripe on their beak.

These common water birds are found in freshwater marshes, lakes, and slow-moving rivers across Louisiana. They appear similar to a duck from a distance, but upon closer investigation, you will see a short, chunky bill and a blocky-looking head.

Pied-billed Grebe Range Map

pied billed grebe range map

Pied-billed Grebes are excellent divers who eat crustaceans, amphibians, fish, and insects. They are almost perfectly adapted for life in the water, and you will seldom see them out of it. But their aquatic skills come at a price, as they are extremely awkward walking on land and fairly slow flyers.

Pied-billed Grebes don’t even lay their eggs on land! Instead, they typically construct a bowl-shaped nest of dead plants that sit directly on floating vegetation. On a side note, they have ADORABLE babies, which have cute black and white faces.

It can be hard to spot one of these grebes, as they often hide among dense vegetation. Many times, it’s easier to locate one by listening for its distinct sounds. The most common call is a loud, wailing “kuk-kuk-kuk-kaow-kaow,” which slows down at the end.


#40. Brown Pelican

  • Pelecanus occidentalis

brown pelican

It’s hard to mistake these large water birds in Louisiana since no other bird looks quite like it!

When I visit the beach, I love seeing the way that Brown Pelicans elegantly fly just over the water’s surface. While these water birds are common today, believe it or not, they almost went extinct in the mid-20th century due to DDT poisoning.

Brown Pelican Range Map

brown pelican range map

These seabirds are commonly seen along the coast as they plunge aggressively headfirst into the water. These dives are meant to stun the surrounding fish, which then are scooped up with their enormous throat pouch and swallowed whole.

Don’t bother listening for them, as Brown Pelicans are mostly silent creatures. You may hear loud popping sounds when they defend their nests, which are made from them snapping their bills together sharply.


#41. American White Pelican

  • Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

white pelican

  • It is a GIANT white water bird with a long neck and bill.
  • Yellow patch at the base of the bill that wraps around their eyes.
  • Breeding adults have an odd plate that sticks up from the end of the bill.

American White Pelicans are hard to miss due to their massive size. In fact, they are one of the largest birds in Louisiana. They typically weigh between 11 – 20 pounds (5.0 – 9.1 kg), but it’s their wingspan that is most impressive.

When fully spread, the wings measure over 9 feet (2.7 m) from tip to tip, which is the second widest in North America, behind the California Condor.

American White Pelican Range Map

white pelican range map

Despite what you might think, American White Pelicans don’t dive underwater to catch fish. Instead, they use their giant neck pouches to scoop up fish. Individuals commonly work together to herd fish to shallow areas to make them easier to catch.

Their bill can hold several gallons of water, so before swallowing, they tilt their bill upward to drain out the water!

Interestingly, chicks still INSIDE the egg can squawk to convey discomfort if conditions become too hot or too cold! Otherwise, adults are generally silent.


#42. Roseate Spoonbill

  • Platalea ajaja

roseate spoonbill pic

  • Large and pink with bright pink on their shoulders and tail and a yellowish-green head
  • Eyes are red, and their bill is long and wide with a spoonlike shape.
  • It is often confused with a flamingo.

Look for this beautiful water bird in Louisiana in shallow freshwater marshes, bays, wetlands, and forested swamps. As Roseate Spoonbills wade in shallow water, they swing their bills back and forth, searching for food. Their pink coloring comes from crustaceans that eat red algae.

These pink birds primarily eat shrimp, aquatic insects, prawns, and fish. They sway their bill in the water to find their prey and then clamp their bill shut to swallow it whole.

An interesting fact about the Roseate Spoonbill is as it gets older, it loses the feathers on top of its head. I guess they have a lot in common with many men! ๐Ÿ™‚


#43. Anhinga

  • Anhinga anhinga

anhinga

  • Males display glossy black-green plumage with glossy black-blue wings and tails. Elongated feathers on the back of its head and neck.
  • Females resemble males but have a pale gray-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper chest. In addition, its lower chest or breast exhibits a chestnut color, and its back is browner compared to the male.

The Anhinga acquired the nickname “water turkey” due to its unique shape, resembling a swimming turkey with its distinctive tail. Many people also call them “snake birds” owing to their long, snakelike neck that sticks up as it glides through the water.

Interestingly, Anhingas are different from most waterbirds because they don’t have waterproof feathers. Because of this trait, you will often see them perched with their wings spread out, drying in the sun.

One look at their dagger-like beak, and it should be apparent that Anhingas are hunters, preying on various fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and insects.

snake bird

Look for them swimming with just their heads above water or perched, drying themselves. They are almost always found near lakes and ponds.


To learn more about birds in Louisiana, check out these other guides!


Which of these water birds have you seen before in Louisiana?

Leave a comment below!

Some range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!

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