Have you had birds land on your vessel while offshore?

Hi everyone,
I’m an ornithologist who’s currently looking into the role that vessels play for the displacement of birds.
It’s a well-known fact among ornithologists that exhausted birds take breaks on vessels, sometimes leading to their displacement over thousands of kilometers, occasionally even crossing entire oceans, but the extent of this is not known. I hope to start some kind of citizen science project with seafarers.
Therefore, I am looking here for any seafarers
A) who have stories about birds on their vessels to share with me and
B) who would be interested to keep an eye open for any more birds landing on their vessels and inform me about this.
No bird knowledge on your part is required as long as you have the means to take pictures or send me some kind of description, including size, shape, colouration, behaviour as well as location and time of year.

If this sounds interesting to you, here’s a little more background info:
Birds are often restricted in their range to certain parts of the globe and barriers, such as huge bodies of water restrain them from ever reaching other parts. But if they end up on a ship and manage to find enough food on it, it happens from time to time that birds get relocated thousands of kilometers. There are several scenarios possible:

  • A normally sedentary species boards a vessel in a harbour and feeds on grains, etc. until it reaches another harbour. This has been proven for e.g. Sparrows (from Cape Verde to the Netherlands) or Crows (from India to Egypt, the Netherlands or from Russia to the US).
  • It’s also possible for migratory landbirds to get blown offshore and do an emergency landing on a vessel. Successful transatlantic travels for a variety of species, including Owls, woodpeckers, sparrows and many more (perhaps even hummingbirds!) have been observed.
  • Or a weakened seabird ends up on a vessel (they are often attracted to light at night). Seafarers then might take care of these and set them back free far from their original range.
    Many or most birds die during these incidents due to exhaustion and dehydration, but some make it and I’d be happy to hear about both birds that lived as well as deceased ones.

I don’t know the day-to-day life on a ship, but I could imagine that the diversion of occasional “bird watching” on an ocean crossing might be an exciting distraction to some of you. I would be very happy if you contact me if you are interested or know someone who might be (birdsonboats@web.de).

You are not committing yourself to anything here, I just hope to gain some insight into this topic. I’m not tied to any organization and this is not part of a bigger research scheme yet, but I hope to develop it into scientific papers, where your efforts would of course be highlighted!

Birds on a vessel in the mediterranean sea

Kind regards


An owl who took a break and hitchhiked a ride near the Greek Isles while we were westbound in the eastern Med.

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That’s a European Scops-Owl, which is migratory. I’ve only once seen the shadows of one, flying through street lights, so I’m a little envious! How long did it stay?

I recall cattle egrets riding with us between Florida and Texas pretty routinely. They would eat some of the smaller birds that would mistakenly ride with us.

I was on a tanker where a Ceylon Crow flew on board as we passed by Sri Lank and left as we approached Kwinana, Western Australia.

Unfortunately someone “spilled the beans” to Health Authorities on arrival. Oz has strict rules for import of birds, animals and plants. That set off a major operation to catch or kill the offender. It appeared like “the army, navy and air force” got mobilized and the Master got interrogated to see if he could somehow be blamed.

How many of the local species of Crows that got killed in the crossfire is not known, nor if the Ceylon Crow was among the casualties.

PS> Lots of migratory birds cross from Asia to Australia every year without being subjected to the same treatment.
A health inspector told me many years later that; “since they have flown all the way from Asia they are assumed to be healthy”.


House Crows (or Ceylon Crow as you call them) are extremely invasive birds and have caused havoc in many middle eastern countries. They have even reached the Netherlands and other European countries via ship. The issue is less with them carrying diseases and more with them outcompeting and driving away native birds, so I can kind of understand the reaction of authorities even though this may seem very cruel.

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The story of Cattle Egrets is a very interesting one as this species apparently managed to colonize almost the entire American continent from Africa without direct human help after humans introduced cattle to America. Do you have any idea what small birds they were catchingon your vessel?

Apparently not a “one off” event:

I’m glad you’re here, I suspect you’ll get more stories than you expect from this lot. Personally I’ve had several hitchhikers on our run from NY to TX. Nearly always a small songbird, most died from exhaustion but a few made the trip. We would often find them off the Carolinas and Georgia, occasionally Florida.


Pelicans! We had a serious issue with Pelicans, when we were stacked in the GOM. They actually pooped like little humans, it was rather foul. They were also very stubborn, to the point you could walk up to them, grab them and throw them overboard (obviously they flew). We would spray water at them on the helideck, and they literally would look at us, I knew they were laughing. It was a big issue, for sanitary reasons as well, we had to install noise deterrence around the helideck and stern.

I remember Hawks taking ownership of the crown, almost having a sanctuary that consisted of something out of the movie Predator. Small bird skulls strewn about. We left for Aruba and these Hawks hitched a ride, and then decided to kill off birds in Aruba. Even the drilling crew was scared to go to the crown.

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You have heard the saying about: “spraying water on a Goose” ?
I presume it applies equally to Pelicans??

New one to me.

It’s a Norwegianism. The English version of the idiom involves ducks instead:

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Just recently had an American Kestrel ride from San Diego down to Mexico. Stayed for about a week onboard. Ate a little sparrow who was along for the ride and some left over fish we left out for him. Nice passenger, no complaints.

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Cattle Egrets (Cowbirds) were fairly common in the GOM. We had an owl ride with us from Pascagoula to Tampa, twice over a period of time.

How did it get back?
Hitch a ride on another tug maybe?

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I always wondered if they stayed in Tampa, or hitched a ride on whatever vessel, but how would they know the destination? .Decent size birds. Both flew off well before we got to Egmont Light. Glad no curious crew scared them off before we got close to land. Doubt seriously if it was the same bird, but same species.

They don’t.
However, at their travel agency, the bird in chief knows, when selling a round-trip ticket.

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Maybe 48 hours. We put some water out in a dish for it to drink. I seem to remember it flew away while it was dark.