The Birds Are the Word

Shore­birds are pop­u­lar at the beach

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - DEPARTMENTS - BY WIL­LIAM R. C OX

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


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.

Pip­ing plover

Semi­pal­mated plover

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