"There exists no single definition of which groups, families, and species are seabirds, and most definitions are in some way arbitrary. In the words of two seabird scientists, "The one common characteristic that all seabirds share is that they feed in saltwater; but, as seems to be true with any statement in biology, some do not." However, by convention all of the Sphenisciformes and Procellariiformes, all of the Pelecaniformes except the darters, and some of the Charadriiformes (the skuas, gulls, terns, auks and skimmers) are classified as seabirds. The phalaropes are usually included as well, since although they are waders ("shorebirds" in North America), two of the three species are oceanic for nine months of the year, crossing the equator to feed pelagically.
Loons and grebes, which nest on lakes but winter at sea, are usually categorized as water birds, not seabirds. Although there are a number of sea ducks in the family Anatidae which are truly marine in the winter, by convention they are usually excluded from the seabird grouping. Many waders (or shorebirds) and herons are also highly marine, living on the sea's edge (coast), but are also not treated as seabirds."