“Where are they?” Keith Bird called out to a flock of pelicans flying overhead. He didn’t really expect an answer, but in a way he kind of hoped for one. He watched the pelicans fly for quite a while, hoping they would circle back and start diving for mullet.

I asked whether pelicans were more telling to him than seagulls or other kinds of birds.

“For big redfish, yes,” he said. He explained that while diving gulls do point toward something feeding and pushing up baitfish, the pelicans go after the same size mullet as the bull redfish try to catch, so they were the birds he wanted to see diving.

While we never did see pelicans dive that day, several groups passed over us in that one area, which told Bird quite a bit. Diving pelicans could have pointed us to a specific school of big redfish, but the fact the big birds were patrolling that area meant that the right kind of bait was nearby and some kind of predatory fish were likely disturbing the bait from time to time.

The pelicans were right, too. We fished several areas that day, and all our bull red action came from the area where we saw the pelicans.

Bird Signs

Birds of various kinds reveal quite a bit about the availability of baitfish and gamefish in an area. You just have to pay attention to the kinds of birds you see and consider what they are telling you through their behavior.

Seagulls are the birds that fishermen most commonly watch for in many areas because they tend to point to schooling gamefish. Gulls prefer scavenging over hunting, so they like grabbing baitfish that schooling fish attack but miss and send them floating to the surface, stunned or dead. If they are going to dive for live fish, they prefer fish that area stressed and on the surface, racing around frantically, which also happens when schooling gamefish meet up with schooling baitfish.

Striped bass, bluefish, speckled trout, white bass, largemouths and spotted bass are just a few of kinds of fish that seagulls commonly betray.

If big numbers of seagulls are resting in an area, you at least know you are close to plenty of baitfish. That’s a good sign. If the gulls are flying, circling and looking, that’s better. Some schooling activity probably is going on, and you might want to fish that area or search with your electronics while keeping an eye out for schooling activity. When the seagulls’ circles get tight, they start to squawk and dive, and others start coming that way, it is showtime!

Pelicans, as suggested already, like larger forage overall. Isolated pelicans don’t tell you much, but if several are using an area and especially if they are actively diving, you are likely in a good area for catching big fish.

Wading fish eaters like great blue herons also tell you there are baitfish in an area, especially if there are multiple birds in an area and they are actively hunting. The same birds also can help you find structure. If you’re more than 8 feet of water, and there are herons hunting nearby, you know they are on a hump or some other shallow area.


One disclaimer about birds: Those near crowded beaches or on fishing piers tend to be liars. They probably make their living begging and don’t tell you much about the fishing that is very helpful.