Shorebirds, also known as waders, are a diverse group of birds often found along the shores of oceans, sea, rivers, and wetlands. They are part of the scientific family Charadriiformes, displaying a myriad of colors, sizes, and habits that make them stand out in the avian world.
Plovers are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies and short, straight beaks. These birds are known for their characteristic ‘stop-start’ feeding style, which sees them making short runs before abruptly stopping to peck at the ground. Examples include the Killdeer, a bird known for its two black neckbands, and the Semipalmated Plover, characterized by a single black neckband and an orange face during the breeding season.
Sandpipers encompass a vast group of species, ranging from small to large-sized birds. As their name suggests, they are often found along sandy beaches. However, you may also find them in an array of habitats including marshes, mudflats, and grasslands. Sandpipers tend to have long, slender beaks ideal for extracting small invertebrates from the sand or mud. Examples include the Sanderling, which can often be seen chasing the waves on beaches, and the larger, long-beaked Curlew Sandpipers.
Godwits are large, elegant birds immediately recognizable by their long, upturned beaks and lengthy legs. They use their impressive beaks to probe deep into the sand and mud for food, often feeding in deeper water compared to other waders. The Bar-Tailed Godwit is famously known for having one of the longest migratory flights of any bird, traveling up to 11,000 kilometers without stopping.
Avocets and Stilts
Avocets and Stilts are notable for their exceptionally long legs, which allow them to wade into deeper waters in search of food. Avocets possess a distinctively curved beak that they sweep side to side in shallow waters to catch small invertebrates. On the other hand, Stilts, named for their long, “stilt-like” legs, utilize their long, straight beaks to pick food from the water surface. The Black-Winged Stilt and American Avocet are common examples of these bird types.
Though not traditionally thought of as shorebirds, terns are often included due to their dependency on aquatic environments. Distinguished by their pointed wings and forked tails, terns feed by diving into the water from flight, often in coastal regions. The Arctic Tern is known for its remarkable migration, flying from its Arctic breeding grounds to the Antarctic and back each year.
Shorebirds present a fascinating glimpse into the world of avian diversity, embodying a wide array of specializations to survive in their respective niches. So, the next time you find yourself by the water’s edge, keep an eye out for these beautiful and intriguing creatures. As you experience the wonder of their uniqueness, you’ll begin to appreciate the role each bird plays in the rich tapestry of our natural ecosystem.