25 Different Types of Water Birds in Virginia

Different Types of Water Birds in Virginia
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten

Virginia is home to a vast array of unique and fascinating wildlife, including various water birds.

Virginia’s waters are full of amazing avian life, from majestic Bald Eagles to the colorful Anhinga.

In this blog post, we’ll explore types of water birds in Virginia that you may not have known existed.

From majestic swans to tiny marsh wrens, each species brings a unique beauty to Virginia’s waterways.

So if you’re looking for a new birding adventure, read on to discover these incredible types of water birds in Virginia!

1. Northern Pintail

The Northern Pintail is the starter of our list of the different types of water birds in Virginia.

It is a medium-sized duck that usually ranges from 20 to 26 inches and can weigh up to three pounds. Its most distinctive feature is its long, slender neck and bill, which are both black and white.

This duck species is mostly seen in wetlands during winter and is a common sight in ponds and lakes.

The Northern Pintail can be identified by its greyish-brown body and white feathers on its sides and back.

During the mating season, its tail feathers become much more colorful and can be seen for miles. This duck typically feeds on plant matter, insects, small fish, and crustaceans. 

The Northern Pintail is considered a “sensitive” species in Virginia due to its declining population size.

Although this species is still fairly abundant, it is important to ensure its continued existence by protecting its natural habitats from degradation and pollution.

The Northern Pintail can continue to thrive in Virginia’s wetlands with proper conservation efforts.

2. American Wigeon

The American Wigeon (Anas americana) is a type of waterfowl found in Virginia. It is one of the state’s most recognizable and common waterfowl, with its bright white head and green-speckled wings.

The male American Wigeon has an orange-tipped bill and a large white patch on its head that it shows off during the mating season. 

The American Wigeon, the second on our list of the types of water birds in Virginia, can be found in wetlands, lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks.

They feed on aquatic vegetation, grasses, and grain, making them important to the health of wetlands and other natural habitats in the state.

During the winter months, they migrate south to escape the cold temperatures of Virginia. 

The American Wigeon can form large flocks when migrating but usually spend their time alone or in small groups during their stay in Virginia.

They are also very active during the day and can be seen flying around looking for food and potential mates. 

These birds are also known for their calls, which sound like “wheeep” or “whick-whick-whick.”

With their striking appearance and impressive call, it’s no wonder the American Wigeon is such a beloved species in Virginia.

3. Mallard

The Mallard is one of the most common types of water birds in Virginia and is widely recognized for its distinctive green head and brown body.

The male mallard has a white ring around the base of its neck and a blue-green patch on its wing. The female is generally less colorful, with a mottled brown body and yellow bill. 

Furthermore, Mallards inhabit freshwater and saltwater bodies and can be found in ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries, marshes, and even coastal bays.

In Virginia, they are often seen foraging along shorelines for seeds, aquatic plants, and other small prey.

Mallards form large flocks during the winter, and their loud quacking calls can often be heard ringing across the landscape.

4. Northern Shoveler

The Northern Shoveler is one of the most commonly found waterfowl in Virginia. Its large bill easily recognizes it with a spoon-shaped tip.

This water bird breeds in the wetland areas of the state, especially in coastal wetlands and inland rivers. 

The male Northern Shoveler has a white head, chestnut breasts and sides, and a greenish-black back.

Females have brown and gray feathers with a yellow bill. They feed on aquatic invertebrates such as insects, snails, and small fish. 

Northern Shovelers, one of the types of water birds in Virginia, are often seen in large flocks during the breeding season. They are also known to roost in flocks during migration and winter.

The Northern Shoveler is an important species for food for other Virginia animals, including ducks, geese, herons, and other birds. 

In addition to providing food, this species also plays an important role in maintaining healthy wetlands.

This water bird is one of the most important parts of Virginia’s wildlife ecosystem. Its presence helps to keep wetlands clean and healthy, while its consumption of invertebrates provides food for other animals in the area.

In addition, the Northern Shoveler’s presence also contributes to local tourism, as many bird watchers come to observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

5. Blue-Winged Teal

The blue-winged teal is a medium-sized waterfowl species native to the United States. This small duck is known for its stunning blue-and-white coloration and bright yellow eyes. It can be found in wetlands, marshes, and ponds throughout Virginia. 

In the summer, this specific one of the different types of water birds in Virginia will fly to northern regions such as Canada and Alaska to breed.

The blue-winged teal prefers to feed on insects, crustaceans, and aquatic vegetation. It is a sociable bird and can often be seen in flocks of up to 10 individuals. 

As they migrate, they make a unique whistling sound that can be heard from far away. With its beautiful plumage and distinct vocalizations, the blue-winged teal is a wonderful addition to any wetland or pond in Virginia.

6. Green-Winged Teal

The green-winged teal is one of the most common types of water birds in Virginia. These small ducks have a distinctive green patch on their wings and can often be found in wetlands such as ponds and marshes.

During the summer months, the green-winged teal can be seen in large flocks flying over open water or resting on the shore. 

The males are generally darker in color than the females and are also more vocal, making them easier to identify.

Green-winged teal is omnivorous and feeds mostly on aquatic invertebrates but will also eat grasses, grains, seeds, and berries.

They are important predators of waterfowl and help to control insect populations. In addition, they are a popular game bird for hunters in Virginia.

7. Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is a common waterfowl found in Virginia. It has an unmistakable appearance, with its colorful plumage, chestnut-colored crest, and distinctive white eye-ring.

Wood Ducks are mainly found near slow-moving rivers, shallow ponds, and wetlands. 

In Virginia, the Wood Ducks prefer beaver ponds and swamps for nesting and can often be seen in city parks.

They feed on seeds, grains, aquatic plants, and insects. Equally important to note, they are types of water birds in Virginia. 

While these birds are not threatened, their population is monitored because of the decline in their habitats.

The Wood Duck is a prevalent bird among Virginia waterfowlers, and it is a pleasure to watch them gracefully soar over the wetlands.

8. Hooded Merganser

The hooded merganser is a beautiful type of water bird found in Virginia. This medium-sized duck is easily recognizable by its large, white crest and its chestnut-colored breast.

It has a long, slender bill and its wings are mostly gray and black with a white patch near the top. 

Hooded mergansers can be seen all year round in Virginia, but they are most commonly spotted during winter.

They are usually found in small groups or pairs near freshwater bodies such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. The hooded merganser feeds on fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans. 

It is one of the types of water birds in Virginia that also consumes some terrestrial insects and fruits.

When these birds take flight, they produce a loud whistling sound that can be heard from a great distance.

If you’re lucky enough to come across a hooded merganser in Virginia, observe from a distance to avoid disturbing them. 

While these birds are generally peaceful, they will become aggressive when threatened and can fly off quickly if startled.

Hooded mergansers can be observed year-round in many parts of Virginia, so keep your eyes peeled for this stunning water bird!

9. Common Merganser

The Common Merganser is one of Virginia’s more popular water birds. It is also known as the “Goosander” due to its gray, black and white plumage.

Common mergansers can be found throughout the state in rivers, streams, and lakes. They feed on small fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. 

Of the types of water birds in Virginia, this species is best seen during the winter when they search for food.

Common mergansers have long, thin bills and can be easily identified by their distinctively crested heads.

They are an important species for the local ecosystem and provide a valuable food source for larger predators.

10. Canada Goose

This list of different types of water birds in Virginia is incomplete without the Canada goose. It is a well-known type, being large, familiar, and common.

It is a medium-sized goose with its plumage featuring black and white patterning on the head and neck with a brownish-gray body. 

It is typically found in large lakes and wetlands, where it can be observed foraging for food such as aquatic plants, berries, and grains.

These birds are migratory, spending the summer months in Virginia before flying south for the winter. They often travel in flocks, making them a popular sighting for birdwatchers.

11. Snow Goose

The Snow Goose, also known as Anser caerulescens, is a waterfowl native to Virginia. It is a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae and one of the region’s most iconic birds.

The Snow Goose is often found in coastal marshes, estuaries, and other wetland habitats, where it feeds on aquatic vegetation, insects, and mollusks. 

It is a large white bird with black wing tips, a long neck, and a short bill. During the winter, they can be seen in large flocks flying along the coast in search of food.

The Snow Goose is an important part of the local ecology, as it helps to control insect populations and provide sustenance to a variety of predators.

12. Tundra Swan

The Tundra Swan is a species of water bird found in Virginia. This swan has a white body, orange bill, and black legs and feet. Its distinctive V-shaped flying pattern can identify it.

The Tundra Swan migrates to Virginia in the winter, where it feeds on aquatic plants such as wild celery and pondweeds. 

In the summer, it will nest on the ground near freshwater lakes and ponds, building its nest with marsh vegetation.

It feeds on small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic invertebrates. It has a loud, trumpet-like call that can be heard from long distances.

This water bird species is becoming increasingly rare due to habitat loss, pollution, and hunting.

13. Mute Swan

The Mute Swan is a large bird native to Virginia and other areas of North America. It is a graceful swan with a long, curved neck and orange bill.

The plumage of the Mute Swan is white with black wingtips. It has black legs, feet, and a long, narrow, orange-red bill. 

Moreso, these types of water birds in Virginia typically weigh between 12 and 18 pounds and measure up to three feet in length. They feed on aquatic vegetation like algae, grasses, and small aquatic invertebrates. 

The Mute Swan is an iconic bird in Virginia, living along the coasts and estuaries. It is also found in many rivers, lakes, and ponds throughout the state.

The Mute Swan is often seen gracefully swimming in small groups, sometimes accompanied by its mate and young.

14. Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is one of several types of water birds in Virginia. This majestic species is one of North America’s largest and most common of all herons.

It has a long neck, a long dark bill, and a dark gray body with a white head, neck, and chest. The legs and feet are gray-green. 

Furthermore, it can be found in shallow water along creeks, ponds, rivers, or on the edges of marshes and wetlands.

It often hunts for fish, frogs, and other small prey by standing still and suddenly striking with its sharp bill.

The Great Blue Heron is one of Virginia’s most commonly seen birds and a symbol of beauty and grace.

It is also a great bird to watch as it can often be seen soaring through the sky or standing majestically in the water. 

This species can also be seen in large flocks, soaring together over rivers and lakes. Its loud squawking call can also often be heard from far away.

This majestic species is a great addition to any bird watcher’s list of water birds in Virginia.

15. American Bittern

The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a large, heron-like bird species found in Virginia’s wetlands.

This water bird has yellowish-brown feathers on its neck and head, with a dark brown back and wings.

It has a white stripe from its eye to the back of its head and a yellowish-orange stripe on its breast. 

Compared to other types of water birds in Virginia, the American Bittern is solitary and often hunts at night.

During the day, it can usually be seen standing still, camouflaged among reeds and rushes. Its diet consists of fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and small rodents.

This species is listed as the least concern by the IUCN Red List and is protected by federal regulations in the United States.

16. Green Heron

The Green Heron, scientific name Butorides virescens, is a small wading bird that is native to Virginia and can often be seen along the coasts, rivers, and marshes of the state. It is one of the most common types of water birds in Virginia.

This solitary bird is usually found standing motionless near the water’s edge, waiting to catch its prey with a lightning-fast jab of its long, sharp bill. 

The Green Heron is recognizable by its greenish-brown plumage, white throat and chest, and red-brown neck.

The Green Heron can be found across Virginia, but it is more common in coastal areas. They feed mainly on small fish, frogs, and aquatic invertebrates. 

They nest near water sources such as lakes and streams and can be seen foraging alone or in small groups.

Although they are not considered threatened or endangered, their populations have declined in recent years due to habitat destruction. Protecting this species’ natural habitats will help ensure their continued survival.

17. Great Egret

The Great Egret is also included in this list of the most common types of water birds in Virginia.

These majestic white birds have long, slender necks and a crest of feathers that helps them to soar above other birds in flight.

Their wingspan can measure up to four feet wide and are often seen along coastal areas and near wetlands. 

Great Egrets can be found along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, and many other waterways throughout the state. They feed on fish, frogs, and small animals and often hunt in shallow water for their prey.

They are an important part of the Virginia environment, helping to keep the ecosystem balanced.

18. Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egret is a beautiful bird found in Virginia and other parts of the eastern United States.

It is easily recognized by its bright white plumage, long yellow legs, and its distinctive breeding plumes.

The Snowy Egret is a common sight along the shorelines of rivers, ponds, and marshes, often in the company of other wading birds. 

They typically feed on small fish and aquatic invertebrates but will also take terrestrial prey such as insects and small mammals.

During courtship displays, male Snowy Egrets will stretch their wings, shake their bodies, and raise their long plumes in the air in an impressive display. 

The Snowy Egret has been listed as threatened or endangered in some states due to habitat loss and disturbance from human activity.

Conservation measures are in place to protect these beautiful birds, including reducing disturbances from human activities, restoring degraded habitats, and providing additional protection for nesting sites.

By protecting these birds, we can ensure that they continue to be a part of Virginia’s natural beauty for many years.

19. Sandhill Crane

The sandhill crane is a species found in North America and Central America. It is a large, long-legged bird with an overall grayish-brown plumage and a distinctive red crown.

In Virginia, these birds can often be found in marshy wetlands, wet meadows, and along the banks of rivers and streams. 

They are migratory birds, spending their summers in the northern United States and Canada and wintering in the southern states.

Sandhill cranes feed primarily on seeds and insects but consume aquatic vegetation and small animals.

These birds are known for their loud bugling calls, which are used to communicate with other flock members.

20. White Ibis

The White Ibis is not excluded when discussing the various types of water birds in Virginia. It is a medium-sized bird that stands around 24 inches in height and has a wingspan of 40 inches.

This species of waterfowl has white plumage with black wing tips, a long curved bill, and yellow legs. 

White Ibises are typically found in wetlands, marshes, ponds, and estuaries, feeding insects, frogs, and other small animals.

During the breeding season, these birds congregate in large flocks and build their nests on the tops of trees and shrubs.

In Virginia, White Ibises are commonly seen in the state’s coastal areas during summer. 

They can also be spotted along the tidal rivers and creeks, which are home to many different species of waterfowl.

While these birds are not considered endangered, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and human disturbance.

Conservationists are actively working to protect their habitats and ensure these amazing creatures’ populations remain healthy.

21. Common Loon

The common loon is one of the most iconic types of water birds in Virginia. With its distinct black-and-white checkered pattern, this graceful bird can be seen in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and other areas of the state.

Common loons often nest in shallow waters, typically along shorelines and ponds. 

They have powerful, pointed wings that allow them to fly easily and dive for their food. Common loons are quite vocal and often produce loud, eerie calls.

These birds primarily feed on fish, although they will sometimes eat aquatic insects and crustaceans. With careful observation, it is possible to spot a common loon in the waters of Virginia.

22. American Coot

The American Coot (Fulica americana) is a species of bird found in wetlands across North America. It is the only living member of the genus Fulica and belongs to the family Rallidae.

The American Coot is a medium-sized bird with a length of 11 to 15 inches and a wingspan of 26 to 32 inches. The bill and feet are bright red, and the body is blackish-gray. 

The birds are excellent swimmers and divers and often forage for food on the water’s surface.

They are types of water birds in Virginia that feed mainly on insects, mollusks, and aquatic vegetation.

American Coots nest in large colonies near the water’s edge and can be seen swimming or walking in shallow water.

23. Double-Crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant is a common species of water bird found throughout Virginia. This large, dark bird is unmistakable with its long neck and thick bill.

The Double-crested Cormorant spends most of its time in the water, where it can be seen preening and fishing.

It often perches on rocks or pilings near the shore and dives to feed. It nests in colonies on rocky cliffs or offshore islands during the breeding season.

The Double-crested Cormorant is a winter visitor to Virginia and can be seen along the coast and in larger freshwater lakes and rivers.

It prefers areas with plenty of shallow water, aquatic vegetation, and shoreline rocks or snags for nesting sites. 

The Double-crested Cormorant feeds mainly on small fish but eats crustaceans, amphibians, and aquatic insects.

This species is known to be very successful at finding food underwater and is a valuable indicator of water quality.

24. Pied-Billed Grebe

The Pied-billed Grebe is a common species of water bird found in Virginia. It is a medium-sized bird with a brown body and dark bill.

The wings are black and white with a white stripe along the top. Its feet are bright yellow, and it has a distinctive black-and-white facial pattern. 

The Pied-billed Grebe can often be seen swimming around ponds, lakes, and rivers. It feeds mainly on small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.

The breeding season for the Pied-billed Grebe begins in late spring, typically May or June. 

During this time, the male will build a floating nest made of plants and feathers near the water’s edge. After hatching, the chicks stay near the nest until they feed themselves.

The Pied-billed Grebe is an important part of Virginia’s wetland ecosystems, as it helps to keep fish populations in check by eating their eggs and young.

25. Brown Pelican

The Brown Pelican is a large water bird that can be found in the coastal areas of Virginia.

The average size for this bird is about 43-53 inches, with an impressive wingspan of 6-7 feet! It has a distinctive bill, greyish-brown feathers, and a white head and neck.

They usually congregate in large groups near estuaries and beaches where they can feed on their favorite snacks, such as fish and crustaceans. 

Brown Pelicans are unique because they can dive into the water to catch their prey. They have a pouch under their bill that expands when they hit the water to scoop up their food. 

They will then lift their head out of the water and drain the excess water before swallowing the fish. This allows them to eat up to 4 pounds of fish per day!

Brown Pelicans are migratory birds traveling in flocks along the coastline during winter. This wraps up our list of the different types of water birds in Virginia.


Virginia is the perfect place to explore if you love bird-watching.

With a wide variety of birds living in the area, including eight species of water birds you may not have known existed, you’re sure to find plenty to admire. 

This blog post will introduce you to all the different types of water birds in Virginia. So, grab your binoculars and go bird-watching!

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