Colonial waterbirds, that is, seabirds (gulls, terns, cormorants, pelicans) and wading birds (herons, egrets, ibises), have attracted the attention of scientists, conservationists, and the public since the turn of the century when plume hunters nearly drove many species to extinction. The first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island, Florida, was founded to conserve a large nesting colony of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). The National Audubon Society also established a game warden system to monitor and protect important waterbird colonies. These efforts helped establish federal laws to protect migratory birds and their nesting habitats in North America.
Although the populations of many species rebounded in the early part of the 20th century, major losses and alteration of coastal wetlands still threaten the long-term sustainability of many colonial waterbirds. A national, coordinated monitoring program is needed to monitor population status and trends in colonial waterbirds (Erwin et al. 1993). The Canadian Wildlife Service has recently established a national seabird monitoring program (D. Nettleship, CWS, personal communication). In addition, better coordination and cooperation for monitoring waterbirds are needed on both their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Latin America where wetland loss is also a critical problem (Erwin et al. 1993). This article summarizes the status and trends of selected waterbird species in North America, but excludes Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific coast, which are described elsewhere.