9 Water Birds That Live in Newfoundland and Labrador! (ID Guide)

What kinds of water birds can you find in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador

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.

9 water bird species in Newfoundland and Labrador:


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


Ducks, Geese, & Swans:


#1. Canada Goose

  • Branta canadensis

Water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 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 Newfoundland and Labrador.

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. 🙂

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.


#2. Northern Pintail

  • Anas acuta

Water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 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 Newfoundland and Labrador 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 you’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.


#3. Common Goldeneye

  • Bucephala clangula

Water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 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 Newfoundland and Labrador. 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.


#4. Red-breasted Merganser

  • Mergus serrator

Water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 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 Newfoundland and Labrador are not usually hunted. It’s also why you don’t find anyone trying to eat a penguin!


#5. 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 Newfoundland and Labrador. 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.


#6. Common Merganser

  • Mergus merganser

common mergansers

  • A fairly large duck that has a long, slender orange bill with a black tip and dark eyes.
  • Breeding males have a largely white body, a black back, and a mallard-like green head.
  • Females and non-breeding males sport a cinnamon-colored head and a grayish-white body.

Due to their thin bill, Common Mergansers stand out fairly easily from most other water birds in Newfoundland and Labrador. Their favorite food is fish, which they catch with the help of their serrated bill, but they also indulge in aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and worms.

Common Merganser Range Map

common merganser range map

Common Mergansers are so good at fishing that other birds try to steal from them when they surface. In fact, it’s common to see flocks of seagulls following them, hoping to snatch an easy meal. Even Bald Eagles have been known to rob them of their hard-earned fish!

Naturally, these ducks nest in tree cavities that woodpeckers have carved out. Interestingly, newborn ducklings are only about a day old when they leap from the entrance to the ground, at which point the mother will lead them to water, and they catch all their own food immediately.


Loons, grebes, and other water birds:


#7. 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 Newfoundland and Labrador.

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!

YouTube video

#8. 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 Newfoundland and Labrador. 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, you’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.


#9. 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 Newfoundland and Labrador, 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.


To learn more about birds in Newfoundland and Labrador, check out these other guides!


Which of these water birds have you seen before in Newfoundland and Labrador?

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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