Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips - Part 3 of 4

Out of all of the shorebird identification challenges that people have, the yellowlegs (Greater and Lesser) and Solitary Sandpiper, and the small (Least, Semipalmated, and Western) and large (Baird’s and White-rumped) peeps are probably the most challenging. For the most part when somebody spots a yellowlegs they know right away that it is a yellowlegs, the problem comes when trying to differentiate between the yellowlegs. To identify the Solitary Sandpiper from the yellowlegs look for the shorter bill of the Solitary and the white eye ring. During the entire year look for the distinctive back pattern, dark back with white spots throughout. To distinguish the Greater from the Lesser Yellowlegs you will need to use size and shape more than any other characteristics. Look for a much longer bill that is slightly upturned on the Greater. Also look for much more streaking down the sides of the Greater, sometimes due to molt there is not much streaking in the fall and throughout the entire winter. With some experience you will start to notice the huge size difference between the yellowlegs but when they are seen alone it is very difficult to judge size. As with all birds the more you see them the easier they will become to identify.

When many people begin watching shorebirds they believe that it is impossible to identify the peeps, but with a little dedication you will soon be able to identify most of them not only on the ground, but also in flight. For the peeps the size, shape, and bill shape are by far the most important aspects. The Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers are easily distinguished from the small peeps. They have much longer wings that extend beyond the tail and are much different in structure then the small peeps. The large peeps have longer necks that make them look much less compact then the small peeps. Once you have figured out that your bird is a large peep there are a few things that you need to look for. The White-rumped has streaking that goes down the sides but the Baird’s has no streaking on the sides. A great way to identify the Baird’s is by back color and pattern. It has a very sandy brown back with some black spots throughout. The White-rumped is a much colder color throughout then the Baird’s Sandpiper.

All of these shorebirds are Least Sandpipers, except the far right bird, which is a Semipalmated.

The small peeps can be very difficult to identify, especially at a long distance. The Least Sandpiper is the most compact of the three and has yellow legs (the other two have black legs). The Least usually has the most rufous on its back, and it is usually the most colorful of the peeps. For the most part the Semipalmated will be much paler and less colorful then the Least in the fall, this is very helpful when these two species are together. The very best way to identify the peeps in the fall is by bill shape and length. The Least has a short bill that is slightly decurved, and is more pointed toward the tip. The Semipalmated has a much more, blunt tipped bill than the Least, and the Western has a much longer more decurved bill than both of the others. As with most species of birds the more you study the birds before observing them in the wild the better your chances are at identifying them in the field.

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