Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shorebird Identification Help: 5 Essential Tips

There are some skills and general observations that translate to identifying all shorebirds.  While I have been focusing on specific groups some of the generalities have probably become obvious.  For example, when identifying any shorebird the more observant you can be towards shape, the more likely you will be able to correctly identify the bird.

Here are my top 5 tips for identifying shorebirds,
1.  Of course we start with shape.  Shape, shape, shape.  As soon as you start noticing the shape of shorebirds, you will quickly improve your identification skills.  Of course, field experience is the best way to learn but studying beforehand will give you a little more confidence in the field.

2.  Concentrate on the close shorebirds.  I would suggest going out to the best shorebird spot near you and concentrating on the closest shorebirds; don't worry about the distant shorebirds. Once you are confident on the close shorebirds you will be able to apply your new-found skills to distant birds.

3.  Learn the differences in plumage between juveniles and adults.  This is helpful in the fall when shorebirds become more confusing due to the juvenile plumages.  For the most part, the differences between juveniles and adults are obvious.  If you know a bird to be a juvenile then you can rule out any adults of species that look similar.

A juvenile Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla, alternate (breeding) plumage
Adult Least Sandpiper in alternate (breeding plumage).  Notice the huge
difference between this plumage and the juvenile.
Go to  http://www.flickr.com/photos/billbouton/6967433184/ to see the
photographer's photostream

4.  Learn flight patterns.  It is often easier to pick out the odd shorebird out of a flying flock than a resting flock.  Many species show different wing and rump patterns and the overall sizes of the birds are more obvious when shorebirds are in flight.  For example, White-rumped Sandpipers show a complete white rump when in flight; this is difficult to see on a resting bird.

White-rumped Sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis - Vaðlatíta
White-rumped Sandpiper- You can see the white rump if you are in the right position
but as soon as it takes flight the white rump will be extremely noticeable
Go to  http://www.flickr.com/photos/omarrun/7600073860/ to see
the photographer's photostream

5.  Study before going out.  This is an essential part of the preparation process before going out into the field.  When you know what to look for because you have studied a field guide, you will learn more when studying a bird in the field.  You can see my previous post about which field guides are the best for shorebirds here.

-Eric

1 comment:

Dan Huber said...

Great post, shorebirds are extremely fun, as well as difficult, but the paying attention to detail helps with all bird id