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West Wales has a most fantastic selection of Sea and Coastal birds. Some are resident on estuaries and shores or visit in the winter after breeding in territories to the north. Waterfowl and Waders make up a large proportion of the seabirds but there are also the fascinating species which prefer an offshore existence for much of the year – known as the pelagic birds. Read more about them on our page about Birds to see on the offshore islands of West Wales.

When to see pelagic birds

A number of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Storm Petrel, Gannet and Kittiwake breed here in summer; some of these hang around our coasts all year and others are often seen in spring and autumn as passage migrants. Flocks of low-flying black ducks – the Common Scoter can be seen offshore throughout the year. Several varieties of Tern and Skua, other types of Shearwater and Petrel can be spotted at sea during spring and autumn as they travel to and from their nesting sites further north and their wintering grounds to the south.

When to see wading birds

Many of the wading birds are dinky things about the size of a thrush or blackbird, with Sanderling and Dunlin being amongst the smallest. The best time to see them is in winter, but Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing and Redshank are around all year. Many species of duck also tend to arrive in the winter and so your out-of-season holiday can be especially interesting when visiting particular habitats such as the Dyfi, Teifi, Tâf and Loughor Estuaries. Whilst not strictly a sea bird, the small, speckled Rock Pipit is a common sight in the ‘splash zone’ around coasts.

The Offshore Islands

The Pembrokeshire coast is famous for its offshore islands and many visitors are drawn here in summer for a chance to view the drama of the huge colonies of pelagic birds which congregate on the rocky cliffs to breed after spending the winter out on the ocean. Most famous amongst these are the Puffins on Skomer Island with their brightly striped beaks and comical behaviour. Mid-June to mid-July is usually the best time to see them.

If you’re the seafaring type, then it’s worth taking the boat trip to Grassholm to see a huge colony of Gannets; graceful in flight, they suddenly fold their wings back tight against their bodies and dive like missiles into the sea, reportedly reaching speeds of around 70mph.

Guillemot and Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar all nest on precarious cliff faces. Manx Shearwaters are secretive; in order to avoid being picked off by the gulls, they return to their Skomer burrows at night but can be seen at sea during the day.

Islands and mainland cliffs and stacks

Guillemots and Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars all nest on precarious cliff faces. They also nest around the coast of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion so you can often see them on a walk around Dinas Island, around the cliffs of Castle Martin Peninsula – Elegug Stacks in particular. Further north, you might spot them during a kayak adventure with Mike Mayberry Kayaking, or on a boat trip with A Bay to Remember or New Quay Boat Trips.

There is more about sea birds on our Birds to see in Summer and Birds to see in Winter pages.

Boat trips to the islands of Ramsey (off the St Davids Peninsula) Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm (off the Dale Peninsula) are available from the end of spring to late October when weather conditions are suitable. More detail about these and about seabirds on our page about Birds to see on the offshore islands of West Wales.

Staying in West Wales

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Winter Visitor

Bar-tailed Godwit

Godwits similar to curlew (53cm) but much smaller. In winter grey-brown with brighter rusty chest and streaks on back. Bill slightly upcurved, pink/orange at base with dark tip. Legs: dark and shorter than black-tailed godwit. Tail: pale brown and white. In flight, brown wings and white on rump makes V on back.

Size: 37cm Where: Sea coast

Black-headed Gull

In SUMMER it is grey and white with black head, but at other times will have just a couple of grey streaks across otherwise white head. It is dainty and has small red bill.

Size: 35-38cm Where: Sea coast
Winter Visitor

Black-tailed Godwit

Tall, stands upright, striking in flight and colourful in spring. Winter plumage plain: grey upper side and pale underparts.  In Flight: white band along wing and white patch above black tail; long black legs trail behind. Bill: long, pale orange at base, then dark. Less streaky than Bar-Tailed in winter.

Size: 40cm Where: Sea coast

Canada Goose

Brown speckled body, black neck ending abruptly. Very distinctive white cheek patch. In autumn, see them fly across Teifi Estuary at dawn and dusk in gaggling formations which are lovely to behold.

Size: 100cm Where: Sea coast, Fresh water


Crow family but more attractive. Slim bird with striking slim, curved, orange beak. Legs orange. It uses upcurrents near cliffs to soar and dive around. In flight: feathers end of wing spread and curled upwards like fingers

Size: 40cm Where: Sea coast, Island

Common Gull

Medium sized. Dainty bill not bright yellow. Grey and white. Herring gull is much more common in West Wales.

Size: 40-42cm Where: Sea coast, Inland
Summer Visitor

Common Sandpiper

Like a Dunlin but legs are dull colour (not black like Dunlin’s). It has very white underside but speckly elsewhere and on chest. Bill: medium length, straight. In flight: wide white stripe along centre of wing and white sides on tail. Tail looks rounded/blunt and dark (not white like Green Sandpiper).

Size: 20cm Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Common Scoter

Pelagic. Flies in flocks (sometimes large) quite low over water. Black all over but for yellow bill patch. Close up it has some paler flight feathers. More numerous in winter but can be spotted all year although it does not breed here.

Size: 46-51cm Where: Sea coast, Island


Water bird with dark plumage and white throat, white feathers on head in spring. Yellowish bill. White patch on thighs. Long and low when swimming. Dives for long periods. Flies low over water with head held well forward. Often stands with wings half spread.

Size: 90cm Where: Sea coast, Island


Largest wader of its kind with long down-turned bill. Mainly grey-brown speckled plumage. Reveals white rump in flight. Calls “Cu-urlew” often late into the evening. Breeds on uplands but is often around the Teifi estuary in late summer as well as winter.

Size: 53-58cm Where: Sea coast, Inland, Island
Summer Visitor

Curlew Sandpiper

Flocks with Dunlins. Similar but more elegant; longer, downcurved bill. White rump rather than speckled. Summer adult: spangled back black, white, chestnut. Face: brickish red. Young birds: most common here autumn with pale-edged feathers on back – look scaly. White belly; buff breast. Striking pale head stripe.

Size: 17-21cm Where: Sea coast


Commonest tiny wader. Winter: dull grey-brown with whiter belly. More colour other times with russet back, greyer head and breast, black belly. Thin bill. Thin white line along wing in flight, dark rump with white sides. Does many quick dashes; not as fast and erratic as Sanderling and less ponderous than Knot.

Size: 18cm Where: Sea coast, Inland, Fresh water

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