Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips-Part 4 of 4

There are still many more identification problems that arise when trying to identify shorebirds, and the hardest of all of the identifications is still left, the Dowitchers. Dowitcher identification can be very difficult depending on what part of the country you live in and what time of year you are observing them. When in breeding plumage, Short-billed Dowitchers are paler through most of the country but there is a prairie subspecies that is as bright as a Long-billed Dowitcher. The Long-billed Dowitcher has a bill that is longer and much straighter. The Long-billed also has longer legs in proportion to its body. Another difference between the two Dowitchers is that the Long-billed has a dark back with rufous barring but the Short-billed has a lighter back with tan barring. The call of the Dowitchers is probably the easiest way to separate the Dowitchers if it calls while you are observing it. The Short-billed gives a low multiple note call and the Long-billed gives a single higher note call. Another sure fire way to identify the Dowitchers is the tail stripping. The Long-billed has much more black on the tail then white and the Short-billed has wider stripes of white than black. These tips only go so far, many Dowitchers are much more difficult to identify in the field especially when they are in basic (winter) plumage.

From left to right: Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs

Our last two groups of shorebirds to discuss are the Curlews and the Godwits. Both of these groups are much more distinctive then most other shorebirds. The Godwits comprise only two regular occurring birds, the Marbled and Hudsonian. These are very easily identified. The only possible confusion that can occur is during the winter. The Marbled is a very warm color overall in the winter and the Hudsonian is a much colder gray overall. Our last group is the Curlews which encompass Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew. These two are also very easily separated. The Whimbrel has a much shorter bill with three dark stripes on the cap. The Long-billed Curlew has a very indistinct head pattern and a very long decurved bill which is unmistakable. There are many other shorebirds that I have not discussed in this series but with this information and some experience you should be able to greatly improve your shorebird identification skills. Every shorebird you see can be identified and with some studying and some experience, you will soon come to see that you can identify shorebirds in the field.

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