Types of Bird Habitats

Types of Bird Habitats

Birds aren’t distributed randomly across the globe. Instead, each habitat supports its own unique collection of bird species that have evolved to live there.

Picture a deep green forest, an open marshy wetland, and a desolate sandy desert. These three habitats have very different characteristics, so you would not expect to find the same bird species living in all three. Birdwatchers know that looking in the right habitat is the secret to finding specific species, and in fact, the same is true for practically all animals and plants.

In this guide, we introduce some important bird habitats and explore some of the adaptations they have evolved for life in these avian environments.

Diversity of Bird Habitats

Birds are remarkably adaptable creatures that have adapted to pretty much every habitat on the globe. Let’s take a look at some important bird habitat types and their general characteristics.

Terrestrial Bird Habitats

Alpine and mountain habitats

Mountain habitats are highly variable environments where harsh weather can make survival difficult. High-altitude mountain habitats are much cooler than surrounding areas and also have thin air and low oxygen levels. The Andean Goose is an example of an alpine habitat specialist.


Deserts are one of the Earth’s dominant terrestrial habitats, characterized by little surface water and sparse vegetation cover that creates a challenging habitat for bird survival. Nevertheless, many fascinating bird species are at home in deserts, including the Greater and Lesser Roadrunner.


Grasslands are habitats dominated by grass cover that occur on every continent except Antarctica. These extensive open habitats are home to many well-known birds, including Meadowlarks and Gray Partridges.


The savanna habitat is mostly grassy or covered in a low vegetation layer with scattered trees. This productive habitat is home to many bird species, including the mighty Common Ostrich.


Forest habitats are dominated by trees and typically occur in high-rainfall areas. These habitats are extremely biodiverse in the tropics but also support impressive bird diversity at higher latitudes. The impressive Harpy Eagle is an example of a tropical forest bird, while the Goshawk is at home in temperate and boreal forests.

Riparian zones

The vegetation along rivers is often very different from surrounding areas, often including forest or woodland areas that are important for birds. These habitats even extend into deserts and provide important corridors and nesting habitats. The Wood Duck is common in riparian habitats.

<p><strong>The desert is home for the Greater Roadrunner</strong></p>

The desert is home for the Greater Roadrunner

<p><strong>Northern Goshawk in its forest habitat</strong></p>

Northern Goshawk in its forest habitat

Aquatic and Marine Habitats


Wetland habitats include marshes, swamps, seasonal pans, and fens. Wetlands can be covered in shallow water all year or during rainy seasons only. They support a wide variety of birds, including many shorebirds and wildfowl.


Lakes are deeper and more permanent aquatic habitats than wetlands. They may occur naturally or be constructed artificially by damming rivers. Lakes provide important habitats for a variety of water birds, including diving birds like Grebes and Loons.

Estuaries and Mangroves

Estuaries occur where rivers meet the ocean, creating tidal systems with brackish water and rich invertebrate life. Estuaries are particularly important for shorebirds like Sandpipers and fish hunters like the Osprey.

Rocky Shores and Sandy Beaches

Coastlines provide rich feeding opportunities for many shorebirds and safe nesting grounds for many pelagic species. Rocky shores and sandy beaches are particularly rich in marine invertebrates, making them attractive habitats for migratory shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings.

Pelagic zone

The open ocean is an exposed and often stormy habitat with a distinct lack of fresh water. Many birds have adapted to this harsh environment to take advantage of rich food sources like fish and krill. Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters are examples of pelagic habitat birds.

<p><strong>Common Loon on a lake with two young chicks</strong></p>

Common Loon on a lake with two young chicks

<p><strong>Sanderling foraging in the sea</strong></p>

Sanderling foraging in the sea

Anthropogenic Habitats


Farmland is a heavily modified habitat, often covered in short grassland (pasture), arable crops, orchards, hedgerows, and infrastructure like barns. Many birds have successfully adapted to farmlands, including Starlings and Barn Owls.

Urban and Suburban Areas

Towns, cities, and suburbs are heavily modified habitats that attract a variety of adaptable bird species. Established suburban gardens may be home to a surprising diversity of common birds, although city centers are usually the domain of just a few hardy species like the Feral Rock Dove and House Sparrow.

<p><strong>Barn Owl peeking out of some hay bales on Farmland</strong></p>

Barn Owl peeking out of some hay bales on Farmland

<p><strong>House Sparrows thrive in urban habitats, due to their hardy nature</strong></p>

House Sparrows thrive in urban habitats, due to their hardy nature

Adaptations to Different Habitats

The Earth may be just one planet, but the variety of habitats here is quite remarkable. From the bleak and frozen coastline of Antarctica to the canopy of a South American cloud forest, environmental conditions in the Earth's habitats vary so extremely that no one species can occupy them all.

Instead, birds have evolved to occupy specific habitats that provide the food, water, and other resources they need for survival. Some generalist birds, like Common Ravens and Barn Owls, are so adaptable that they have massive distribution ranges encompassing many different habitat types. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some bird species have highly restricted ranges and occur in very specific ranges.

Birds exhibit many adaptations to survive in their preferred habitats. Read on to explore some typical examples.


Some birds have evolved camouflage to match their habitat, like the pure white plumage of the Snowy Owl or the cryptic plumage of the Bittern that blends in with its reedbed habitat.

Physical features

Habitats can shape birds. The extremely long legs of birds like Flamingos, Stilts, and Herons are adaptations for wading in wetland habitats. Bird feet are often highly specialized, like the webbed feet of Ducks and other swimming birds.

Check out this guide for much more on bird legs and feet!


Different habitats have different average temperatures, and some extreme environments require specialized adaptations for keeping cool or warm. Some birds from cold habitats have evolved dense plumage and feathered legs and feet to survive the harsh winters.

Behavioral adaptations

Survival in each diverse habitat requires particular physical traits as well as specific foraging, roosting, and nesting habits.

Dive into our extensive bird behavior collection to learn much more!


Many habitats are only suitable during certain seasons, so a large proportion of the world’s birds have evolved to be regular seasonal migrants. These birds simply leave for more favorable habitats when conditions become unfavorable, sometimes traveling across continents and oceans to reach their wintering or nesting grounds.

You can read more about bird migration here.

The cryptic plumage of a Bittern makes them blend in with reedbeds in their habitat

The cryptic plumage of a Bittern makes them blend in with reedbeds in their habitat

Importance of Habitat Diversity

Birds are integral to ecosystems. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, compete with other animals, feed on other organisms, and provide a food source for predators. During these interactions, birds alter their habitats in subtle ways and create opportunities for other life forms to exist.

Habitats vary in the diversity of birds they support. Tropical and structurally diverse bird ecosystems and habitats are home to more plant, animal, and bird species, and areas with several different habitats in close proximity are especially rich in bird life.

Habitats like savannas, woodlands, and forests provide foraging and nesting opportunities for birds at several levels, from the ground to the treetops. However, undisturbed open habitats like grasslands and semideserts also support a surprising variety of birds thanks to the natural diversity of native plants and other organisms. In comparison, homogenous habitats like arable cropland tend to have low biodiversity.

Threats to Bird Habitats

Some bird habitats are resilient, but many are highly sensitive to disturbance. Climate change and anthropogenic activities like agriculture, logging, mining, and urbanization can completely erase habitats and affect ecosystems in surrounding areas.

Human beings aren’t the only cause of habitat changes. Droughts, floods, fires, storms, and volcanos can dramatically affect the landscape, with long-lasting effects. Invasive plants and animals also alter ecosystems, sometimes causing significant habitat degradation.

Conservation Efforts

Without healthy bird habitats, our feathered friends would have nowhere to live and breed. Effective conservation in national parks, preserves, reserves, wilderness areas, and other protected areas plays a vital role in protecting bird habitats, and these are often the best places for birdwatchers to find new birds and enjoy wonderful nature experiences.

Protecting existing habitats and rehabilitating degraded landscapes relies on efforts from all levels, from individuals and private landowners to local government and international cooperation.

You can play your part in bird habitat conservation by supporting local conservation groups and charities, choosing sustainable products and foods, or creating your own native bird habitats in your community!

The long legs of a Flamingo helps them thrive in their wetland habitat

The long legs of a Flamingo helps them thrive in their wetland habitat


Our planet is covered in a wonderfully diverse collection of habitats, each supporting its own share of the world’s (approximately) ten thousand bird species.

Each habitat is vitally important for the birds and other organisms that live there, and each needs our care and protection. Conservation action is becoming increasingly important as our population grows, putting additional pressure on important bird habitats.

We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring bird habitat types with us in this introductory guide. You can learn even more about unique ecosystems like forests, deserts, and wetlands from our upcoming collection on important bird habitats!

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