Common Birds of Magdalena Bay in Baja California Sur
Hugging the west coast of Baja California, Magdalena Bay not only provides a calving ground for California gray whales but is also a sanctuary for an abundance of sea birds. Its waters are protected from the Pacific Ocean by the barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita, making it an idyllic destination for kayaking tours.
Backed by giant sand dunes on one side and mangrove forests on the other, Mag Bay (as it’s affectionately known) has long been visited by whalers who came to cooper their oil and hunt whales during the calving season. Today, it is revered for its ecological significance and rich biodiversity and is a particularly alluring destination for birdwatchers.
If you’re joining us on our Magical Magdalena Bay, Magdalena Bay Whale Watching, or San Ignacio Lagoon Whale Watching tours, it’s not only whales that you will encounter. Read on to learn about some of the bird species you may be lucky enough to spot while out paddling or just relaxing at camp.
Magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
With their long, angular wings and forked tail, the magnificent frigatebird lives up to its name. These large seabirds are found throughout tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas, from northern Mexico and Florida down to Peru and Brazil. Magnificent frigatebirds are predominantly brownish-black, although the males are renowned for their bright red gular sacs, which are inflated when trying to attract mates. The females tend to be slightly larger, with a white breast. While they usually soar over the ocean hunting for fish (which they skim off the surface of the water), they are also known to harass other birds and force them to regurgitate their meal.
Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Also known as the great northern diver, this attractive water bird breeds in the waterways of Canada, the northern United States, Greenland, and Iceland before migrating south to Baja California in the winter. It will be particularly familiar to Canadians due to its appearance on the one-dollar “loonie” coin. While breeding adults have a black head and white underparts, the non-breeding plumage is brown with a white chin and neck. Common loons are specialist fish eaters and will dive as deep as 190 feet to catch their prey while staying underwater for up to three minutes. When observed on land around Magdalena Bay, you may notice they are slightly clumsy due to their legs being positioned near the rear of their body.
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
One of the largest birds in North America, the white pelican can grow to a length of 70 inches and weigh up to 30 pounds. It is almost entirely white in color, with a vivid orange bill and a large throat sac. With a wingspan of up to 120 inches, the white pelican can easily soar through the air and migrate between its Canadian nesting sites to its wintering habitats in Central and South America. Rather than being found on seashores, white pelicans prefer to congregate around estuaries and lakes where they corral fish. Unlike brown pelicans, they don’t dive for their food but catch it while swimming, as well as being known to steal fish from other pelicans, gulls, and cormorants.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Found in wetlands across most of North and Central America, the great blue heron is an attractive wading bird with a slate-gray plumage and a rust-colored neck. It is the largest heron native to North America, with some migrating from the northern United States to Baja California in the winter while others remain year-round in their chosen habitat. Great blue herons can be found living in saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, and flooded meadows, as well as on the shores of lakes and protected bays. While paddling around Magdalena Bay, keep your eyes peeled for their nests high up in trees or bushes. With its stately body and curved neck, the great blue heron is majestic to observe, whether wading in shallow waters waiting for prey or soaring above the coastline.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Once hunted extensively for its fashionable plumes that were used to decorate women’s hats, the snowy egret is now protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Its population numbers have since recovered and these beautiful birds can often be seen along the shores of Magdalena Bay. The snowy egret is native to North, Central, and South America where it prefers to live on riverbanks, lakesides, and marshes while feeding on fish, crustaceans, insects, and small reptiles. They are almost entirely white in color, except for a splash of yellow around the eyes and long black legs that meet bright yellow feet. Watching snowy egrets stalk their prey is always a treat, with the birds shuffling their feet, flicking their wings, and vibrating their bills.
American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)
Often referred to as a “sea pie”, the American oystercatcher is a black and white bird that is distinguished by its thick, orange beak and pink legs. It is found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, from California and New England all the way down to Chile and Argentina. They prefer to live around salt marshes, mudflats, and islands where they like to feed on marine invertebrates. The strong bill of the American oystercatcher allows it to pry open mussels and clams to feed upon. Despite being hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century, the species has recovered since the 1918 passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
One of the most widespread of the curlews, whimbrels breed throughout subarctic Asia and Europe before migrating south to winter on the coasts of Africa, South Asia, Australasia, and the Americas. They are predominantly coastal birds and it’s rare to see them in inland areas. Brown in color, whimbrels feature bold head strips and a long, curved bill that it uses to probe soft mud for invertebrates. Prior to migrating, they are also known to feed on berries.
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
With its long, thin neck and a dagger-like bill, the tricolored heron can be found along the Pacific coast between Peru and California. It is also native to the Atlantic region, with the birds observed from the northeastern United States all the way down to Brazil. Adults are easily identifiable due to their lavender-blue bodies, white bellies, and yellow coloration around the bill while juveniles are a rusty brown. Tricolored herons like to nest in colonies in swamps and coastal habitats, with a preference for being high up in trees or shrubs. Its diet consists of fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and insects, which it stalks in shallow water.
Reddish egret (Egretta rufescens)
With its red-tinged neck and grayish-blue body, the reddish egret is an undeniably elegant heron. It features strong, cobalt legs and a dagger-like, two-toned bill that it uses to fish in shallow waters. Reddish egrets breed throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and the Gulf Coast of the United States and are currently classified as “threatened” in Texas. They are one of the most active herons and constantly on the move, either stalking prey on land or swooping at them in flight. To startle prey, they are known to create shadows with their wings.
Mangrove Warbler (Setophaga petechia castaneiceps)
Featuring a yellow body and chestnut hood, the mangrove warbler is a distinctive form of the American yellow warbler. Mangrove warblers are commonly found in mangrove swamps along the coasts of Central and South America, as well as on the Galapagos Islands. Setophaga petechia castaneiceps is one of 12 mangrove warbler subspecies and is endemic to Baja California. Recent research studies have indicated that these photogenic birds don’t move between different stands of mangroves but will switch areas within a stand between winter and the breeding season. To spot a mangrove warbler, keep an ear out for their unique vocalizations, which vary from sweet songs to territorial hissing.
American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
With its white plumage and pink facial skin, the American white ibis is one of the most distinctive birds in the ibis family. While there are huge numbers in Florida, it is also present along the coastlines of Baja California and has been observed as far south as Colombia and Venezuela. American white ibis prefer shallow coastal marshes, wetlands, and mangrove swamps where they can easily forage for food. Crustaceans, small fish, and aquatic insects make up its diet, with the bird often using its long bill to probe for food in the mud. Despite being predominantly monogamous, American white ibis males are known to breed with other females and even steal food from unmated females during the breeding season.
Willet (Tringa semipalmata)
Stocky in stature and with a distinctive black-and-white wing pattern, the willet is the large sandpiper and is closely related to the lesser yellowlegs. It breeds in North America and the West Indies before heading south to Central America during the winter months where it can be seen along the rocky shorelines and in the coastal marshes of Baja California. The willet is named after its piercing “pill-will-willet” call, which is interestingly more rapid in eastern willets than western ones. While the former prefers to breed in coastal salt marshes, the latter seeks out freshwater marshes and wetlands. Males have been observed scraping out multiple nest sites for the females to consider and are known to defend their territory vigorously.
Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus)
Shorter-legged and paler than many other plovers, snowy plovers are plump shorebirds with a sandy brown upper body and white belly. During the summertime, they display a black spot behind their eye and on the front of their crown, although these are absent in non-breeding adults. Snowy plovers that breed in warmer climes are largely sedentary while those based in northern and inland areas migrate to spend their winter in the tropics. While they are mostly visual hunters, they have also been observed probing the sand for food or hunting insects around carcasses.
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Famed for its enchanting song, the northern mockingbird can be found from Canada to Mexico and usually remains in its chosen area throughout the year. Between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, its numbers dwindled as the birds were captured for sale as pets, although its populations appear to have recovered since. Northern mockingbirds prefer to inhabit thickets and brushy areas with open ground and are very common in urban settings. They are gray in coloration with a whitish underpart and black flight feathers. Known for being incredibly intelligent, northern mockingbirds can not only recognize breeding spots where they have had success in the past but are also capable of identifying individual humans.
Yellow-crown Night Heron
One of two species of night herons that are native to the Americas, the yellow-crowned night heron is distinguished by its yellow crown and head plumes. The rest of the body is predominantly gray in color, with a bold patterning and a large, white cheek patch. Yellow-crowned night herons can often be seen stalking their prey in shallow bodies of water or seen perched on stumps and tree branches protruding over the water. Rather than fish, the preferred diet of these relatively small, stocky birds is crustaceans, insects, and worms.
Additional Common Birds of Magdalena Bay
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Black-crowned Night Heron
- Green Heron
- Marbled Godwit
- Long-billed Curlew
- Semi-palmated Plover
- Western Meadowlark
- Western Gull
- Little Blue Heron
- Black-necked Stilt
- Least Sandpiper
- Loggerhead Shrike
- Belted Kingfisher
- Bald Eagle
- Royal Tern
- Turkey Vulture
- Peregrine Falcon
- Lesser Scaup
- White-winged Dove
- Ash-throated Flycatcher
- Savannah Sparrow