Joys of Birdwatching | Big, Small, Short, or Tall | Shorebirds

I have come to enjoy birdwatching so much over the years. It was never something I would have anticipating enjoying. Even as a biology major who was interested in biology mainly because of a love of animals I never thought I would enjoy walking outside and looking for birds. I don’t think I even realized birding was a pastime people enjoyed.

Birds are truly amazing creatures. One of the things about birds that fascinates me is that they come in such a large variety of forms. Among the different categories of birds I think the category of birds that would make up Shorebirds might be the most diverse group of birds I can see.

When I say Shorebirds I do not mean the scientific or technical definition of what a Shorebird is. To me a Shorebird is a bird that spends most of its time around bodies of water. They do not generally swim in the water, but may wade out into the water. They live, forage, feed, and or nest in or around bodies of water. Water is key to their survival.

This Killdeer arrived in upstate New York before the official start of spring and there was snow still on the ground.

In the area I live Shorebirds can be many things. A shorebird can be one of the biggest birds you will see, like a Sandhill Crane with its 4 feet of height and its greater than 6 foot wingspan or a Great Blue Heron with its potential for a 4.5 foot height and 6.5 foot wingspan. Or a Shorebird can be a tiny little creature that you’d be hard pressed to see even if you were looking for it. Just try to find a Least Sandpiper along a massive shoreline. The Least Sandpiper is a mere 5 to 6 inches tall with a 10 to 11 inch wingspan and it may not even weight 1 ounce. Stand that bird next to a Great blue Heron and that is variety.

Great Blue Heron landing in the wetlands at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

So much variety

Shorebirds also show a variety of in types of legs. There are large birds with long legs and small birds with short legs. Legs can be proportional or disproportional. Long legs proportional to its size and body shape, more like a Heron or Long legs that seem disproportional to its body size and shape like a Black-necked Stilt.

Spotted Sandpiper coming in for a landing on the banks of the Chemung River.

So many different looking beaks on all the varieties of Shorebirds as well. Long beaks, short beaks, narrow or thick, curved up, curved down, straight, pointy or flat. Beaks can see proportional to body size or shape or they can seem way to long for the size and shape of the bird. Wilson’s Snipe or American Woodcock. Just take a moment to Google an American Woodcock. They are a strange looking bird to me.

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron standing atop the dam in the Chemung River.

Herons and Egrets tend to have more proportional beaks that are long, pointy, and thick. An Ibis has a long thick bill that is curved downward and blunt at the end. An American Avocet has a long slender bill that is upturned at the end. Sandpipers and similar birds tend to have shorter blunt beaks that are mostly straight.

When I go out looking to photograph Shorebirds I never know what I might see. A heron spears a fish with its sharp pointed beak. A tiny Least Sandpiper sifting through the mud on the shoreline. Large flocks of birds or solitary Killdeer calling out an alarm as I approach to alert all the other wildlife. I could see anything or absolutely nothing at all.

Greater Yellow-legs stalking the shallows at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

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