Simple Explanation of Why Birds Fly With Boats

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Some birds like to fly near boats. This is something that you may have noticed if you have been out on a boat. You may have wondered why birds often fly with boats.

Birds fly with boats for a few reasons. One reason is that birds can find food in the form of discarded fish. When boats move, they create an air draft that can make flight easier for birds, making it easier to cross the water.

Read on to learn more about why birds fly with boats and the types of birds that fly alongside boats.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Why Do Birds Fly With Boats?

Why Do Birds Fly With Boats?
Why Do Birds Fly With Boats?

There are a couple of reasons why birds may choose to fly with boats. For one thing, boats may stir up food or attract food. 

Fishing boats are particularly attractive to birds out in the ocean. Birds seem to learn that boats can be associated with food. Discarded fish and bait is a source of food for birds that tend to be opportunistic, feeding on what they can find.

The movement of the boat also creates resistance that is believed to result in air being pushed upwards. This makes flying easier for birds, which then follow along the boat. 

The less effort a bird has to put into flying, the better for the bird. This is also why you find large raptors and vultures flying more on hot days when there are strong updrafts, enabling easier flight with less effort.

What Types Of Birds Follow Boats?

What Types Of Birds Follow Boats?
What Types Of Birds Follow Boats?

One of the most common birds to follow ships is the Fulmar. This bird is a scavenger that can congregate in large numbers where there is a good source of food. 

Fulmars, although resembling gulls, are close relatives of the Petrels. The Fulmars are seabirds that are opportunistic in their feeding habits. They will take scraps of fish, squid, and jellyfish. 

Other species commonly follow boats out at sea and feed on discarded fish remains. Such species include Great Black-backed Gulls, Gannets, Skuas, and Storm Petrels. 

Do Bald Eagles Follow Boats?

Bald Eagles do not routinely follow boats. However, in some parts of North America, like Alaska, they will raid boats that are docked in the harbor. The eagles can congregate in large numbers, looking for scraps on a fishing boat. 

The eagles are opportunistic but don’t occur far out in the ocean in the way that seabirds do. Bald Eagles take advantage of the fishing industry and have learned that fishermen have fish that they can scavenge.

Bald Eagles can occur along the harbors of the ocean, and inland on large dams and along rivers. They feed on fish which they catch in the water. 

Do Stellar’s Sea Eagles Follow Boats?

The Stellar’s Sea Eagle, which is a large eagle, follow boats in search of fish scraps. This eagle is found in parts of Asia, Canada, and occasionally in the northeastern United States. 

Do Migrating Songbirds Follow Boats?

There is no specific evidence for songbirds following boats during migration. However, occasionally, a bird will land on a boat out at sea. 

This allows the birds to rest and scavenge for food on the boat. Several species of birds cross the ocean while on migration, and a boat or ship provides a good place to stop and rest while on their journey.

During bad weather, it is more common for migrating birds to land on boats. Besides songbirds, many other bird species can land unexpectedly on boats; this includes raptors and waders. 

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

Bird Watchers And Pelagic Trips

Bird Watchers And Pelagic Trips

Bird watchers take advantage of the fact that birds follow boats by taking part in pelagic trips. These trips are organized by bird clubs and, for a fee, bird watchers can go out on a boat to bird watch. 

On pelagic trips, fish remains are thrown overboard to attract as many birds as possible. This is a great way to see Petrels, Shearwaters, Gulls, Skuas, Fulmars, Gannets, and Albatrosses. The exact species you see depends where the boat is traveling to.


An assortment of birds fly along with boats. It seems that birds have learned that boats have food or attract food. The movement of the boats also provides updrafts making bird flight easier. 

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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