The Birds Are the Word
Shorebirds are popular at the beach
Shorebird sightings on Southwest Florida’s beaches attract birding enthusiasts from all over the world. Shorebirds can be observed throughout the year on these local beaches. Many birders think that identifying shorebirds is impossible and become very discouraged when attempting to identify this diverse group of birds.
Not only are there many species of shorebirds, but many species appear different in their breeding and non-breeding plumages, and as adults and juveniles. There are many bird field guides that have made shorebird identification much easier. Some of the best guides are The Sibley Guide to Birds,
Identify Yourself and The Shorebird Guide.
The Shorebird Guide is extremely useful as it has many photographs of shorebird species illustrating their different plumages throughout their life cycle. The Identify Yourself book also helps simplify shorebird identification. The best way to recognize shorebird species is to spend time in the field with experienced birders. There are many in the Fort Myers area, and some are very willing to share their birding skills with you. You can obtain a large amount of experience in a short amount of time with an experienced birder that would take years to learn on your own.
If working with an experienced birder is not possible another way to start is to identify easily recognized species. The ringed plovers would be an excellent starting place. The ringed plovers found locally include the snowy plover ( Charadrius alexandrinus), Wilson Plover ( C. wilsonia), semipalmated plover ( C. semipalmatus), and piping plover ( C. melodus). The four ringed plovers are among the most popular shorebirds for photography and identification because these small shorebirds are approachable and the least demanding to identify. They have the shortest bills and largest eyes as compared to many shorebird species. Unlike other shorebirds, they run and stop while feeding, utilizing one foot to tap on the sand or mud surface to locate small worms and arthropods.
It is possible to observe all four species together in April or May sporting their breeding plumage which makes identification much easier. Identification is possible by determining back color, leg color, and bill size and color. For breeding adult ringed plovers, the semipalmated and Wilson plovers have upper backs and wings that are dark to medium brown. The semipalmated and Wilson plovers exhibit fairly wide and complete breastbands. The snowy and piping plovers have pale graywhite or light tan upper backs and wings. They show only thin and incomplete breast bands.
The semipalmated and piping plovers have orange legs, while the Wilson and snowy plovers have light pink and black legs, respectively. Of these four species the Wilson plover has the largest bill that is thicker and longer than the other ringed plovers. The bill is always black. The snowy plover bill is also all black and is rather long and thin. The piping and semipalmated bills are slightly to extensively orange based and black tipped. The piping plover’s bill ends abruptly, appearing blunt. The semipalmated bill starts with a medium thick base and tapers evenly along its length, coming to a fine point.
Just be aware that some of all four species can have all black bills at some time during the non-breeding season, which is approximately nine months long. The more time you spend birding in the field the faster you will pick up on the many physical characters and behavior of different species of
THE SHOREBIRD GUIDE IS EXTREMELY USEFUL AS IT HAS MANY PHOTOGRAPHS OF SHOREBIRD SPECIES ILLUSTRATING THEIR DIFFERENT PLUMAGES THROUGHOUT THEIR LIFE CYCLE.
shorebirds to help you positively identify them. You might find birding to be very addictive and a great way to spend time on the beautiful beaches in Southwest Florida.
There is no doubt that many species of shorebird populations are decreasing and some at a rapid rate. There is a strong need for the recruitment of more experienced birders, especially those focusing on shorebirds. Many expert birders and ornithologists have focused on the breeding grounds of shorebirds, but it is becoming more obvious that the locating, long-term monitoring and protection of wintering and migration staging areas is very important. These areas are important for these species to feed and rest to store fat for their long flights to their breeding grounds. Unfortunately, these wintering areas are disappearing, and shorebird population monitoring by experienced birders is needed for the conservation of these species.