The formation of the first Seabird Group was postulated among British professional ornithologists who were becoming interested in seabirds in 1961, but nobody could be found to organise it until the amateurs discovered that when few land birds could be seen at the coastal bird observatories with onshore winds it was often possible to see rare seabirds.
It was formally set up with representation of the British and Irish national ornithological societies on its committee at the BTO Ringing and Migration Conference, and publicised at the subsequent International Ornithological Congress, in Oxford in 1966. Dr W.R.P (Bill) Bourne was the first General Secretary.
Initially, most attention was paid to "sea-watching" - observation of passing seabirds from the shore - but the members were then persuaded to include breeding censuses, observations at sea, and the investigation of breeding success and mortality measured by the appearance of dead birds on beaches. The last revealed the impact of the Torrey Canyon oil pollution disaster off Cornwall in 1967 and the birdkill in the Irish Sea in 1969, when many birds were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals, leading to control of the use of polychlorinated biphenyl's (PCBs) among other things, much more support for seabird research and conservation, and the formation of similar Seabird Groups throughout the world.