Sandpipers and plovers

Least sandpiper

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Calidris minutilla

Slightly larger than a sparrow, slightly smaller than a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Least sandpipers are the smallest of the sandpipers known as "peeps". They have distinctive yellow legs and feed along the edge of mudflats or marshes. They often gather in loose flocks and frequently join other species, but they tend to be in smaller groups and feed toward drier edges than other small sandpipers.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Semipalmated sandpiper

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Calidris pusilla 

Between a sparrow and a robin

A small shorebird with a short neck and small head. The bill is dark and may droop slightly at the tip.  Similar in size to the least sandpiper. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Semipalmated plover

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Charadrius semipalmatus  

Between a sparrow and a robin

A small shorebird with a round head and a stubby bill. They have yellow, moderately long legs and a brown or black band around their neck.

Photo by  Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Piping plover

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Charadrius melodus

Between a sparrow and a robin

Little round piping plovers hide in plain sight on sandy ocean and lake shores, blending right in with their sandy gray backs. It's not until they scurry down the sand on their orange legs that you're likely to spot these big-eyed shorebirds with a sharp black collar and an orange bill. They nest in soft sand away from the water's edge along the Atlantic Coast, Great Plains, and Great Lakes. They are endangered due to habitat loss, disturbance, and predation.

Red-necked phalerope

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Phalaropus lobatus

Robin-sized, smaller than a red phalerope

A shorebird that’s at home on the open ocean, the red-necked phalarope is a tiny grayish bird with a needle-thin bill. Females are brighter than males. On their Arctic breeding grounds these birds are blue-gray with a reddish wash on the neck; in winter they are a streaky gray on the back, white below, with a bold black patch across the eye.

Baird's sandpiper

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Calidris bairdii

Between a sparrow and a robin

The long-winged Baird's sandpiper prefers drier areas to forage than most other similar sandpipers.


Western sandpiper

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Calidris mauri

Between a sparrow and a robin

Although it has a rather restricted breeding range in western Alaska, the western sandpiper is one of the most abundant shorebirds in North America. A small, portly sandpiper with a long and slightly drooping bill.

White-rumped sandpiper

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Calidris fuscicollis

Between a sparrow and a robin

Unique among the small sandpipers known as "peeps," the white-rumped sandpiper shows white above the base of the tail. Its striking rump, along with its distinctive call note, make it readily identifiable in the midst of a flock of flying small shorebirds.

Sanderling

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Calidris Alba

Robin-sized

Sanderlings are small, plump sandpipers with a stout bill about the same length as the head. These and other sandpipers in the genus Calidris are often called “peeps”; Sanderlings are medium-sized members of this group.

Solitary sandpiper

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Tringa solitaria

Robin-sized

The solitary sandpiper is a medium-sized slender shorebird with a prominent white eye-ring. It is commonly seen in migration along the banks of ponds and creeks. While not truly solitary, it does not migrate in large flocks the way other shorebirds do.

Photo by Rick Morgan

Spotted sandpiper

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Actitis macularius  

Robin-sized

Nesting

A medium sized shorebird, their beak is almost as long as their head. Their body tapers to a longish tail. They look as though they are leaning forward.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Purple sandpiper

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Calidris maritima 

Robin-sized

A stout shorebird, the purple sandpiper winters along the rocky shores of the Atlantic Coast. Despite its name, it appears mostly slate-gray in winter, with only a faint purplish gloss, and shows no purple at all in breeding plumage. It has a medium length bill that droops at the end.

Photo by John Drury

Dunlin

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Calidris alpina 

Robin-sized

Medium-sized sandpiper, with a bright reddish back and black belly. The long drooping black bill makes is distinguishable from other similar sized shorebirds.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Ruddy Turnstone

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Arenaria interpres 

Robin-sized, larger than a spotted sandpiper

These birds are found along rocky shorelines and seen mostly in the spring and fall. Be on the lookout for them at the water’s edge, where the high tide deposits shells, rocks, seaweed, and other debris. At higher tides when there’s less exposed shoreline, look for them in rocky outcrops along the shore.

Photo by Karen Oakes

Killdeer

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Charadrius vociferus  

Robin-sized but with longer legs and wings

A medium-sized shorebird you can see without going to the beach. Spot them as they run across lawns or parking lots. Killdeer have the characteristic large, round head, large eye, and short bill of all plovers. They are especially slender and lanky, with a long, pointed tail and long wings.

Photo by Karen Oakes


Red phalerope

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Phalaropus fulicarius

Larger than a red-necked phalarope; smaller than a red knot

Lesser yellowlegs

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Tringa flavipes  

Between a robin and a crow

A slender, long-legged shorebird, with a long neck and bill. It often can be seen running through the shallow water to chase its prey. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Wilson's phalerope

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Phalaropus tricolor

Robin-sized

Every year in late summer, migrating Wilson's phalaropes put on an amazing show as enormous flocks amass on salty lakes of the west. There they spin round and round in the nutrient-rich waters, creating whirlpools that stir up invertebrates that will fuel their migration to South America. Females are rich peachy and gray, and are more colorful than the males. Females court and defend male mates—several per season—while males do most of the work of raising the young.

 


Red Knot

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Calidris canutus

Robin-sized

The red knot is the largest of the "peeps" in North America, and one of the most colorful. It makes one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 15,000 km (9,300 mi) from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America.

Pectoral sandpiper

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Calidris melanotos

Robin-sized

A medium-sized, chunky shorebird, the pectoral sandpiper is found most commonly on mudflats with short grass or weedy vegetation and seems more at home in the grass than in the water.

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Short-billed dowitcher

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Limnodromus griseus

Robin-sized

A common and conspicuous migrant that uses a "sewing-machine" method of foraging across the mud flats. Its long bill is short only in comparison with the very similar Long-billed Dowitcher. 

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Wilson's snipe

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Gallinago delicata

About the size of a killdeer, but heavier-bodied and less lanky

Though the long tradition of “snipe hunt” pranks at summer camp has convinced many people otherwise, Wilson’s Snipes aren’t made-up creatures. These plump, long-billed birds are among the most widespread shorebirds in North America. They can be tough to see thanks to their cryptic brown and buff coloration and secretive nature. But in summer they often stand on fence posts or take to the sky with a fast, zigzagging flight and an unusual “winnowing” sound made with the tail.

Photo by Rick Morgan

Black-bellied plover

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Pluvialis squatarola  

Between a robin and a crow

A medium to large shorebird of coastal beaches, the black-bellied plover is striking in its black-and-white breeding plumage. It is the largest plover in North America and can be found along the coasts in winter northward to Massachusetts and British Columbia. 

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Upland sandpiper

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Bartramia longicauda

Between a robin and a crow

A medium-sized sandpiper of grasslands, not shores, the Upland Sandpiper inhabits native prairie and other open grassy areas in North America. Once abundant in the Great Plains, it has undergone steady population declines since the mid-19th century, because of hunting and loss of habitat.

Greater yellowlegs

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Tringa melanoleuca 

Between a robin and a crow

A common, tall, long-legged shorebird of freshwater ponds and tidal marshes. The Greater Yellowlegs frequently announces its presence by its piercing alarm calls. 

Photo by Kerry Hardy

Whimbrel

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Numenius phaeopus

Crow-sized

One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the whimbrel breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches for invertebrates, but also feeds on berries and insects.

Snowy Egret

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Egretta thula

Between a crow and a goose, smaller than a great egret

These are medium-sized herons with long, thin legs and long, slender, bills. Their long, thin neck sets the small head well away from the body.

Photo by Kirk Gentalen

Great Egret

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 Ardea alba 

Goose sized or large, smaller than a great blue heron

Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill.

Great Blue Heron

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Ardea herodias

Goose sized or larger

Hunting Great Blue Herons wade slowly or stand statue-like, stalking fish and other prey in shallow water or open fields. Watch for the lightning-fast thrust of the neck and head as they stab with their strong bills. Their very slow wingbeats, tucked-in neck and trailing legs create an unmistakable image in flight. Year-Round. 

Photo by Karen Oakes