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What is a Shorebird?


    Shorebirds generally inhabit open areas of beaches, grasslands, wetlands, and tundra; some even nest above the treeline on mountains. This group of birds, which includes the plovers, oystercatchers, avocets, stilts, and sandpipers, often share characteristics of long bills, legs, and toes and rather drab coloration. Long bills, legs, and toes are useful in wading to forage on mudflats and in wetlands. Shorebirds mainly feed on insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates that they locate by either sight or taste. Because almost all shorebirds nest on the ground, earth-tone plumage camouflages adults as they incubate their eggs. Because shorebirds lay at most four eggs, they produce relatively few offspring each season; predators on eggs and chicks and harsh weather can greatly reduce productivity in some years.

    Shorebirds undertake some of the longest migrations known. Red knots breeding in the high latitudes of the Canadian Arctic will spend the winter in southern South America. Bar-tailed godwits nesting in western Alaska can be found along beaches of New Zealand in the Austral summer. A buff-breasted sandpiper wintering in Argentina may cross seven countries and eleven states and provinces before reaching its breeding grounds in northern Alaska. Along their migration pathway, many shorebirds feed in coastal and inland wetlands where they accumulate fat reserves needed to continue their flight. Aggregations of shorebirds at some of these sites, called stopovers, can number in the millions.

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    Updated September 2007