- Shorebirds have a unique combination of physical and behavioral characteristics that help us in their identification.
- Shorebirds are birds specially adapted to live in open land and often near water.
- Most shorebirds are migratory.
- Shorebirds are international travelers that link people and places.
- Learning about representative species of shorebirds and their ecology can help us learn about birds in general.
- Many shorebird species are declining.
See: Explore the World with Shorebirds!
There are many different birds that love shores: gulls, ducks, pelicans, sparrows, geese, and terns are all popular beach birds to see. Even vultures, eagles, and other raptors as well as the occasional heron, egret, and swallow may be found in beach and shoreline habitats. When birders use the term shorebirds, however, they are referring to specific types of birds that are distinct in body shape and behavior. There are several types of shorebirds that can occupy beaches, estuaries, marshes, and other shores. Understanding the subtle differences between each type can help you learn to identify shorebirds more easily.
Shorebirds come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them share certain physical and behavioral traits. Nearly all shorebirds have a distinct preference for wet habitats and shorelines, both on coasts as well as along inland waterways, marshes, or general riparian habitats. Most shorebirds are carnivorous and eat a range of insects, mollusks, crustaceans, worms, larvae, tadpoles, and similar prey. Physically, these birds have round heads, generally longer legs, and very useful bills to probe for food in the sand, mud, gravel, and water. Many shorebirds are gregarious, and mixed flocks that include several different types of beach birds are common. During the breeding season, these birds are often shy and will engage in dramatic distraction displays to protect their nests and chicks. The term shorebird covers several related bird families that are part of this distinct group, and more than 180 species could be considered true shorebirds around the world.
9-11” (23-28cm). Two black chest bands; white collar. Rather long tail is mostly orange. Downy young may have only a single black band; compare to small plovers.
Songs & Calls
A shrill kill-deee, fil-deee or killdeer, killdeer. Also dee-dee-dee.
Breeds from Alaska east across continent to Newfoundland and southward. Winters north to British Columbia, Utah, Ohio Valley, and Massachusetts. Also in South America.
Migratory in north, may be permanent resident in south. Spring migration is very early, returning to some northern areas in February or March.
Despite local declines in some urbanized areas, still widespread and abundant.
Fields, airports, lawns, river banks, mudflats, shores. Often found on open ground, such as pastures, plowed fields, large lawns, even at a great distance from water. Most successful nesting areas, however, have some shallow water or other good feeding are for the chicks. Also commonly found around water, on mudflats, lake shores, coastal estuaries.
Typically they run a few steps and then pause, then run again, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible. May follow farmers plowing fields, to feed on grubs turned up by the plow.
Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, fly larvae, many others; also eats spiders, earthworms, centipedes, crayfish, snails. Eats small amounts of seeds as well.
In breeding season, male flies high over nesting territory in floating, wavering flight, with slow, deep wingbeats, giving kill-dee call repeatedly. On ground, courtship displays include ritualized nestscrape making. Nest site is on ground in open area with good visibility, as on bare soil, shortgrass field, gravel road; sometimes on gravel roof. Nest is shallow scrape in soil or gravel, either unlined or lined with pebbles, grass, twigs, bits of debris.
Usually 4, sometimes 3-5. Buff, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both parents, 24-28 days. In very hot climates, adults shade eggs in mid-day, may soak belly feathers to help cool eggs. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age of young at first flight roughly 25 days. In some warmer parts of range, Killdeers raise 2 broods per year.
See: Killdeer: Eve Roper