Shorebirds are found wandering along our lake shores, beaches, marshes, and wet areas and there are so many to identify. Often they are well camouflaged but are fun to watch zipping up and down and poking in the mud or stirring up a feast.
Shorebirds are also called waders as they are usually found in shallow water often no deeper than their bellies.
Shorebirds In Alabama In Summer: Semipalmated Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, Whimbrel
Shorebirds In Alabama In Winter: Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Wilson’s Snipe, Snowy Plover, Sora, Long-billed Dowitcher, American Woodcock, Virginia Rail
Shorebirds In Alabama All Year: Killdeer, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Clapper Rail, American Oystercatcher, Red Knot
Shorebirds In Alabama In Migration: Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, American Avocet, King Rail, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-billed Curlew
Shorebirds include sandpipers, plovers, oystercatchers, turnstones, knots, curlews, dowitchers, avocets, and phalaropes and there are 81 species that occur in the Americas.
The easiest to identify are stilts, avocets, and oystercatchers and the hardest are usually the sandpipers, affectionately known as ‘peeps’
The calls of shorebirds are also a great help when identifying birds so listen to the call recordings.
33 Shorebirds In Alabama
Killdeers are common in Alabama and are spotted in the state all year but their numbers increase during winter. They are recorded in 10% of summer checklists and 15% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Killdeers are large plovers with distinctive red eye rings. They are brown on the top and white underneath and have 2 black breast bands and a black line through the eye.
They have long wings and tails and short thick dark bills. Males and females look the same.
- Charadrius vociferus
- Length: 7.9 – 11 in (20 – 28 cm)
- Weight: 2.6 – 4.5 oz (75 – 128 g)
- Wingspan: 18.1 – 18.9 in (46 – 48 cm)
Killdeer are year-round residents of the southern and western US states but those that breed in more northern regions migrate south for winter.
You can find Killdeers in open habitats with little to no vegetation, like pastures, fields, sandbars, and mudflats. Killdeers may be shorebirds but they’re often seen in urban environments.
Killdeer forage for insects in fields and often follow cattle or plows that disturb the soil hoping to capture earthworms that rise to the surface. In shallow water environments, they will shake one leg in the water, hoping to push their prey to the surface.
Nests of Killdeer are usually simple, shallow scrapes with some added rocks, shells, and sticks placed on the ground in open areas.
The female lays four to six eggs that take three or four weeks to hatch. Chicks hatch with a single black breast band.
Fun Fact: In order to lure predators away from their nests, Killdeers are experts at pretending to have broken wings.
Willets are found in Alabama all year and are mainly spotted along the coast. They appear in 2% of summer and winter checklists.
Breeding adult Willets are dark-brown with mottling on the back and white with some dark-brown streaking underneath. Their bills are thick and straight.
Their wings are distinct with broad white stripes on black wings visible in flight. Their tails are white with a dark brown tip. Their legs are long and bluish-gray.
Juvenile Willets are paler in comparison to adults and they hardly have any streaks on their white underparts, except on their throats.
There are two sub-species and Western Willets are lighter-colored in comparison to Eastern Willets. They also have less mottling on their upperparts and less barring on their underparts.
- Tringa semipalmata
- Length: 13 – 16 in (33 – 41 cm)
- Weight: 13.22 oz (375 g)
- Wingspan: 24 – 31 in (61 – 79 cm)
You can find Willets on open beaches, marshes, mudflats, and rocky coasts. However, Western Willets move inland to freshwater prairie marshes and other wetlands for breeding.
Willets forage for food using their long bills to probe and pick small crabs, clams, worms, and other invertebrates from mudflats and saltwater marshes.
Nests of Willets depend on their location. Eastern Willets build their nests on the grass near salt marshes and dunes. Western Willets build their nests near pond edges.
Once the female decides on her preferred scrape, she will lay around four eggs that take two to three weeks to incubate.
Fun Fact: While both parents take turns incubating their eggs, only the male adult incubates at night and stays with the young even when the female has left their territory.
Sanderlings are winter birds in Alabama and are mainly spotted along the coast but some also hang around all year. They occur in 2% of summer and winter checklists.
Sanderlings are small, stout, and feisty birds commonly found chasing after the waves.
Their non-breeding coloring is pale gray, almost white, on their heads and upperparts and white on their underparts. Their bills and legs are black, in contrast.
Breeding adult Sanderlings have reddish-brown mottling on their heads, breasts, backs, and wings. Their bellies and rumps are white. They have black bills and legs.
Juvenile Sanderlings have dark gray heads and their backs and wings have a mottling pattern.
- Calidris alba
- Length: 7.1 – 8.7 in (18 – 22 cm)
- Weight: 2.1 oz (60 g)
- Wingspan: 17 in (43 cm)
You can find Sanderlings practically on any sandy beach across the world, particularly during winter. While their breeding grounds are exclusively in the High Arctic tundra, they migrate along the North American coast.
It’s entertaining to watch Sanderlings as they forage on the beach. They look for food as a group, running along the shore after a wave recedes. They usually eat small crabs and during summertime, they can also catch flying insects.
Nests of Sanderlings are usually located on the ground, in dry and stony areas. The female creates a shallow spot on the ground lined with soft material and pebbles and then lays about four eggs. The eggs take three to four weeks to hatch.
Fun Facts: Non-breeding adults don’t make the trek toward their breeding grounds in the Arctic and simply remain in their wintering grounds throughout the breeding season.
4. Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpipers spend winter in Alabama but some are spotted all year along the coast. They are recorded in 1% of summer and winter checklists.
Least Sandpipers are the smallest shorebirds. Breeding adults are rusty-brown with scaled patterns on their heads and upperparts and some brown streaking on their throats and breasts. Their bellies and undertails are white and they have yellow legs.
Non-breeding adult Least Sandpipers have a paler coloring, somewhat gray or light brown. Juveniles are brighter colored on their backs and their scaled patterns are more obvious.
- Calidris minutilla
- Length: 5.1 – 5.9 in (13 – 15 cm)
- Weight: 0.7 – 1.1 oz (19 – 30 g)
- Wingspan: 10.6 – 11.0 in (27 – 28 cm)
You can find Least Sandpipers in the tundra and boreal forests during their breeding season. In the winter, they inhabit lagoons, mangrove forests, mudflats, salt marshes, and edges of lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Least Sandpipers mostly probe and pick out their food from mudflats and beaches in winter and they forage in the tundra, eating flies, beetles, and dragonflies in summer.
Least Sandpiper Calls:
Nests of Least Sandpipers are made by males on patches of grass on damp ground. The female then lays three or four eggs which take about twenty days to incubate.
Females incubate at night, while males take the rest of the day. The female leaves the brood first and the males stay until the young fledge.
Fun Fact: When probing in the mud with their bills, Least Sandpipers use the surface tension of the water to bring their prey quickly from their bills to their mouths.
5. Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs are mainly spotted in Alabama during winter but some hang around along the coast all year. They appear in 1% of winter checklists.
Greater Yellowlegs are larger than the similar Lesser Yellowlegs. Adult Greater Yellowlegs are lanky, with long, yellow legs, and thick, long slightly upward-curved bills.
They are generally finely streaked on the head and neck with some heavy streaking with brown on their throats. Their upperparts are speckled with brown and gray while their underparts are plain white.
Breeding adults normally have darker and denser streaking on the breast and neck with additional heavy streaks on their flanks.
- Tringa melanoleuca
- Length: 11.4 – 13.0 in (29 – 33 cm)
- Weight: 4.5 – 7.7 oz (128 – 219 g)
- Wingspan: 23.6 in (60 cm)
You can find Greater Yellowlegs in wetland habitats like tidal flats, wet meadows, and flooded agricultural fields.
Greater Yellowlegs usually wade in shallow water and use their long bills to poke at and stir the water to capture crustaceans, marine worms, and frogs. They also eat small fish and insects, seeds and berries.
Greater Yellowlegs calls:
Nests of Greater Yellowlegs are found on the ground near water and lined with leaves and lichen. They lay up to four eggs which take about twenty-three days to hatch. Once they hatch, the chicks are able to leave the nest after a few hours and can feed themselves.
Fun Fact: Greater Yellowlegs are easy to spot not only for their yellow legs but also for their striking high-stepping gait across the muddy wetlands.
6. Black-bellied Plover
Black-bellied Plovers are spotted along the coast of Alabama all year. They occur in 1% of summer and winter checklists.
Breeding adult Black-Bellied Plovers are uniquely patterned water birds. They are mottled black on the back and are black from their bills to their bellies with a white border between.
Breeding females are less black than males. Non-breeding adults are grayer overall and with white bellies.
Juveniles are similar, but their upperparts have pale yellow spots and they have faint streaks on their flanks and breasts.
- Pluvialis squatarola
- Length: 11.5 – 13 in (29 – 33 cm)
- Weight: 11.28 oz (320 g)
- Wingspan: 22 – 25 in (56 – 64 cm)
Black-bellied Plovers breed in the arctic north before migrating south to coastal areas for winter. In North America, they migrate to both the east and west coasts of the United States.
You can find Black-bellied Plovers on the tundra during the breeding season. In winter, you are most likely to find them along coastal areas like beaches and mudflats.
Black-bellied plovers usually eat invertebrate prey like insects, worms, and crustaceans which they get from dry, muddy, and sandy grounds. Their diet in their breeding grounds consists mostly of larvae of flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies and they also eat berries and seeds.
Black-bellied Plovers Calls:
Nests of Black-bellied Plovers are simple scrapes on the ground made by the males. The females then line these scrapes with moss, lichen, and other plants.
The female lays three to four eggs which both parents incubate for three to four weeks.
Fun Fact: The Black-bellied Plover is known as “gray plover” in the Old World (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and “black-bellied plover” in the New World (the Americas).
7. Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs spend winter in Alabama but their numbers increase during migration from March to May and July to November.
Lesser Yellowlegs have shorter and more needle-like bills than the Greater Yellowlegs and are smaller.
Breeding adults have mottled gray-brown, black and white upperparts. They are white underneath with irregular brown streaking on the breast and neck. Their legs are yellow.
Non-breeding adults have more uniform gray-brown upperparts. But their necks and breasts have varying degrees of streaking with some barring on their flanks.
Juveniles have a dark brown smudgy cap and fine brown and white spotting on their backs. Their heads and breasts also look smudged with brown coloring and light streaking.
- Tringa flavipes
- Length: 9.1 – 10.6 in (23 – 27 cm)
- Weight: 2.8 – 3.2 oz (79.5 – 90.9 g)
- Wingspan: 23.2 – 25.2 in (59 – 64 cm)
You can find Lesser Yellowlegs in a variety of fresh and brackish wetlands, especially during migration and winter. During the breeding season, they open woodlands with nearby marshes and ponds.
Being shorebirds, Lesser Yellowlegs favor small fish, crustaceans, and small aquatic insects like dragonfly nymphs, beetles, and water boatmen. They also eat snails, worms, and seeds.
Greater Yellowlegs calls:
Nests of Lesser Yellowlegs are well-camouflaged simple depressions located on the ground, lined with dry grass, leaves, and moss. The female lays three to five eggs that take about twenty-two days to hatch. The chicks can leave their nest a few hours after hatching.
Fun Fact: The Lesser Yellowlegs used to be hunted regularly which led to their declining populations in the early 20th century. While their numbers have since increased, they are now threatened by the loss of their habitat.
8. Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstones are found along the coast of Alabama all year but their numbers increase from March to May and August to November. They occur in up to 2% of checklists during migration.
Ruddy Turnstones are short and stocky shorebirds that have wedge-shaped and slightly upturned bills. They are easily recognizable in their breeding coloring as well as their bright-orange short legs.
Breeding males have a calico-like pattern and coloring (red, brown, and black) on their backs. Their heads and chest are streaked white and brown or black and their bellies are white.
Breeding females are paler than males and have browner heads with more streaks. Nonbreeding adults and juveniles are less colorful than breeding adults.
In flight, Ruddy Turnstones have a white stripe down their back, a black tail stripe, and white stripes on their wings.
- Arenaria interpres
- Length: 6.3 – 8.3 in (16 – 21 cm)
- Weight: 3.0 – 6.7 oz (84 – 190 g)
- Wingspan: 19.7 – 22.4 in (50 – 57 cm)
You can find Ruddy Turnstones along freshwater shorelines, rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and mudflats. They favor beaches with plenty of seaweed or debris. Nesting grounds are on open ground in the Arctic.
Ruddy Turnstones get their name as they turn stones and seaweed over to eat hidden crustaceans, sea snails, and mollusks. They can also dig and probe through sand and mud. They also eat dead fish and mammals that wash up on shore and other bird eggs.
Ruddy Turnstone call:
Nests of Ruddy Turnstones are shallow depressions on the ground made by the female and lined with lichens or willows. She will lay two to five eggs and they take about twenty-three days to hatch.
The male may help with the incubation towards the end. Once the chicks hatch, they are able to feed themselves but will be protected by their parents. They are capable of flight within three weeks.
Fun Facts: Young Ruddy Turnstones fly to the winter grounds on their own, around two days after they’ve just learned how to fly.
9. Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpipers are mainly found in Alabama during migration from April to May and July to October but a few stay during winter.
Spotted Sandpipers are slender, medium-sized shorebirds with brown spots on their white undersides. They have a distinctive dancing walk
Their backs are brown. They have a distinctive white stripe over the eye.
Non-breeding adults and juvenile Spotted Sandpipers are similar in that they have no spots and have light brown coloring on their backs and chest.
While males and females are also similar, females tend to be larger and heavier than males.
- Actitis macularius
- Length: 7.1 – 7.9 in (18 – 20 cm)
- Weight: 1.2 – 1.8 oz (34 – 50 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6 – 15.8 in ( 37 – 40 cm)
You can find Spotted Sandpipers in any freshwater area, like rivers and streams. They are also often seen near coastal areas, especially in winter.
Spotted Sandpipers normally forage on sand or mud and eat small fish and crustaceans, but will also eat insects from leaves.
Spotted Sandpiper Calls:
Nests of Spotted Sandpipers are always located near the shore and under the protection of broad-leafed plants or under thick vegetation like nettles. Nests are simple scrapes on the ground and lined with dead grass, feathers, and weeds.
The female lays three to five eggs but the male incubates them for about three weeks and continues to care for them as they grow. Females may mate with more than one male.
Fun Fact: Spotted Sandpipers are sometimes called “teeter-tails” because of their distinct tail-bobbing or “teetering” motion while they’re foraging.
10. Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plovers are found along the coast of Alabama all year but they are most common across the rest of the state during migration from April to May and mid-July to November.
Semipalmated Plovers are small shorebirds noted for their stop-and-go foraging style.
Breeding adults are gray-brown on the back and white underneath. They have black collars and black masks with stubby orange bills.
Non-breeding adults are browner overall and without the full collar and mask. Juveniles look similar to adults but their collars and facial markings are barely noticeable.
- Charadrius semipalmatus
- Length: 6.5 – 7.5 in (17 – 19 cm)
- Weight: 2.43 oz (69 g)
- Wingspan: 14 – 15.25 in (36 – 39 cm)
You can find Semipalmated Plovers in the arctic tundra during the breeding season. They prefer sandy or mossy ground near water sources with low vegetation.
Semipalmated Plovers will dash across mudflats or in shallow water and then pause to scan the area. Prey usually includes worms, crustaceans, mollusks, and snails. In agricultural fields, they will feast on spiders, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, flies, and even plant seeds.
Semipalmated Plover Calls:
Nests of Semipalmated Plovers are made by males and lined with leaves, shells, rocks, moss, and seaweed. The female lays up to five eggs and both parents take turns with the incubation for about twenty-four days.
Fun Fact: The “Semipalmated” name of the Semipalmated Plover refers to its partially webbed feet.
11. Clapper Rail
Clapper Rails are found along the coast of Alabama all year but they are not very common in the state.
Clapper Rails have large bills and large sturdy legs and feet and are brown, gray or reddish in coloration.
- Rallus crepitans
Clapper Rails are found in the coastal eastern United States, the Caribbean, and coastal Central America.
You can find Clapper Rails in saltwater marshes hunting for crabs and fish eggs or eating vegetation, but they are secretive birds.
Clapper Rail calls:
Nests of Clapper Rail are made from marsh vegetation built on raised areas to prevent flooding. They lay up to 16 eggs which take around three weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: Clapper Rails can drink saltwater as they have a special gland.
Dunlins spend winter in Alabama and are most common along the coast from October to May. They are spotted in 1% of checklists at this time.
Dunlins are small waders with distinctive black belly patches during the breeding season. They are mottled brown and are lighter underneath. They have short black legs.
Non-breeding adult Dunlins are gray on the back and pale underneath.
Juveniles share the same rusty-brown color as breeding adults but they’re paler in comparison and they do not have the black patch on their bellies yet. As they age, the black patch slowly appears.
- Calidris alpina
- Length: 7.5 – 8.5 in (19 – 22 cm)
- Weight: 2.99 oz (85 g)
- Wingspan: 14.5 – 15.75 in (37 – 40 cm)
You can find Dunlins in subarctic and arctic tundra near water during the breeding season. As Dunlins are social animals, they congregate in large flocks on sandy beaches and mudflats during migration and winter.
Dunlins love marine worms, mussels, small clams, snails and beetles, spiders, flies, and some seeds from plants. They pick off what they can see and they will probe in the mud for those that lay hidden.
Nests of Dunlins are scrapes on the ground built by males and lined with leaves, sedges, and grasses. Females lay three to four eggs which take around three weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: While the long bill of the Dunlin looks sharp and pointed, it is actually blunt but is sensitive to touch, so they can continue eating well into the dark night just by probing through the mud and sand.
13. Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Snipes are winter birds in Alabama and are spotted from August to May. They are recorded in 2% of winter checklists.
Wilson’s Snipes are small, stocky shorebirds that are known for the “winnowing” sounds their fanned-out outer tail feathers make when they’re flying fast. Wilson’s Snipes may be small and short but they can fly extremely fast with speeds estimated at 60 miles an hour.
Though they may be difficult to spot due to their brown mottled and streaked camouflage their extremely long bills help them stand out. Adults and juveniles are similar.
- Gallinago delicata
- Length: 10 – 11 in (25 – 28 cm)
- Weight: 6.38 oz (181 g)
- Wingspan: 17 – 20 in (43 – 51 cm)
You can find Wilson’s Snipes in freshwater marshes, muddy swamps, and damp fields with vegetation to hide in. When flushed out, they will fly in a zigzag motion to confuse predators.
Wilson’s Snipes forage in muddy soil in search of larval insects, crustaceans, earthworms, and mollusks. They plunge their long bills deep into the ground, sometimes up to their eyes, and simply swallow their prey without lifting the bills.
Wilson’s Snipe Calls:
Nests of Wilson’s Snipes are scrapes made by the female and lined with grass which she adds onto with every egg laid. She lays two to four eggs and incubates them for about twenty days.
Fun Facts: The eyes of a Wilson’ Snipe are set far back on its head to allow it to dig deeply into the mud with its long bill. With this, it can see well from all angles, even from the back.
14. Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitchers stay all year along the coast of Alabama but they are spotted migrating across the rest of the state from April to May and June to October.
The Short-billed Dowitcher is not at all short-billed as its name suggests. Its bill is actually also quite long but it’s named as such to distinguish it from the Long-billed Dowitcher.
Breeding adult Short-billed Dowitchers are medium-sized birds with football-shaped, brown, black, and gold-mottled upperparts and cinnamon-colored underparts with varying degrees of spots and bars.
They have dark-brown crowns and dark eyes with white earrings and a pale eyestripe. Their bills are long and dark. Their legs are long and dark yellow-green.
Non-breeding adult Short-billed Dowitchers have grayish heads, necks, and breasts, grayish brown coloring with a mottled pattern on their backs and wings, and whitish bellies with a few brownish-gray barring on the flanks.
Juveniles have orange breasts and extensive dark feathers with cinnamon-colored edges on their backs and wings. They have dark brown caps and eyestripe like the adults.
There are three subspecies in North America, each with a variation in coloring and markings.
- Limnodromus griseus
- Length: 10.5 – 12 in (27 – 30 cm)
- Weight: 5.43 oz (154 g)
- Wingspan: 18 – 22 in (46 – 56 cm)
During the breeding season, you can find Short-billed Dowitchers in bogs, tidal marshes, mudflats, and boreal wetlands near the treeline. In winter, you may find them in saltwater estuaries and lagoons.
Short-billed Dowitchers spend their time foraging in shallow water or on wet mud by rapidly probing the mud or water with vertical, sewing machine-like movements. They capture a lot of insects, mollusks, shrimps, crabs, and marine worms with this method.
Short-billed Dowitcher Calls:
Nests of Short-billed Dowitchers scrapes lined with grass on the ground near water. The female lays three to four eggs and incubation takes twenty-one days by both parents. The female leaves when the eggs hatch, leaving them under the care of the male.
Fun Fact: It is hard to distinguish between the Short-billed Dowitcher and the Long-billed Dowitcher just on their physical appearances. The most definitive way to tell them apart is to listen to their calls. The Short-billed Dowitcher’s call is more mellow.
15. Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpipers are spotted in Alabama during migration from April to May and July to October.
Solitary Sandpipers are small shorebirds with long wings and legs. While most sandpipers migrate in flocks, Solitary Sandpipers, true to their names, migrate alone.
Their heads, necks, and breasts are finely streaked with brown and white and they have distinct white eyerings. Their bills are fairly long and dark. Breeding adults have backs and wings that are dark olive brown with white spots. Their legs are green.
Nonbreeding adults look quite similar to breeding adults except they are browner and their spots are less obvious.
- Tringa solitaria
- Length: 7.5 – 9.1 in (19 – 23 cm)
- Weight: 1.1 – 2.3 oz (31.1 – 65.1 g)
- Wingspan: 21.6 – 22.4 in (55 – 57 cm)
You can find Solitary Sandpipers in quiet freshwater wetlands and wooded swamps. In migration and winter, they favor habitats with hardly any other shorebirds like river edges and wet meadows.
Their nesting grounds are in muskeg regions, with bogs and ponds surrounded by spruce and other trees.
Solitary Sandpipers walk along muddy shores and in shallow water to hunt their prey. Most prey includes insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and amphibians. They normally shake one foot into the muddy waters to disturb the prey but also pick insects from plants.
Solitary Sandpiper call:
Nests of Solitary Sandpipers are old songbird nests and are unusually found in trees, contrasting with other shorebirds that nest on the ground.
Females lay three to five eggs and they take about twenty-four days to hatch. Once hatched, the chicks wait for their down to dry, and then they’re encouraged to drop down to the ground to start feeding.
Fun Fact: Solitary Sandpipers have two subspecies: Solitaria breeds and migrates east of the Rocky Mountains and Cinnamomea breeds and migrates west of the Rocky Mountains. Cinnamomea has narrower bars on the tail while Solitaria has broad bars.
16. Snowy Plover
Snowy Plovers are near-threatened species in Alabama and are only spotted along the coast. They are usually spotted here during winter, but a few hang around all year.
Snowy Plovers are small waders known for their run and pause motion on sandy beaches. They blend well into the landscape because of the sandy tones on their upperparts.
Breeding adults have dark patches on the front of their crowns, at the back of their eyes, and on the side of their upper breasts, like a partial collar. Their bills are short and black and their legs and feet are dark gray.
Juveniles are a paler version of adults and have no dark face patches. Their upper parts are still a lighter sandy brown their neck stripe is also light.
- Charadrius nivosus
- Length: 6 – 7 in (15 – 18 cm)
- Weight: 1.4 oz (40 g)
- Wingspan: 13 – 14 in (33 – 36 cm)
You can find Snowy Plovers on sandy coastal beaches and dry salt flats. They are also seen on shallow lakes. They prefer salt water over freshwater though. Their breeding grounds require sparse vegetation as a protective cover for the eggs.
They employ a run-and-pause motion when catching prey.
Snowy Plovers are active foragers on dry sand and sometimes in wetter areas as the tide rolls out. They are expert catchers of insects and crustaceans like worms, mole crabs, fly larvae, beetles, flies, snails, and clams.
Snowy Plover Calls:
Nests of Snowy Plovers are simple scrapes on the ground, usually beside a special feature like a plant or a shell. The female lays two to six eggs and she lines the nest with pebbles, shell pieces, and fish bones. It takes around a month to incubate the eggs and both parents share in this responsibility.
Fun Fact: Snowy Plovers have been listed as a threatened species since 1993 because the open nature of their nests makes it difficult to breed. Their nests on the beaches are prone to disturbance from humans or animals.
17. Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpipers are near-threatened species in Alabama but they spend the breeding season along the coast and some migrate across the rest of the state.
Semipalmated Sandpipers are one of the most familiar species in eastern Northern America.
Breeding adults have a reddish, gray, and brown coloring on their heads with some mottling of the same colors on their backs. They are white underneath and their bills are thin, straight, tubular, and black. Their legs are black.
Nonbreeding adult Semipalmated Sandpipers are paler in comparison and are grayish-brown. Juveniles appear similar to nonbreeding adults but they have a more scaly pattern on their backs and wings.
- Calidris pusilla
- Length: 5.9 – 7.1 in (15 – 18 cm)
- Weight: 0.6 – 1.8 oz (18 – 51.5 g)
- Wingspan: 13.8 – 14.6 in (35 – 37 cm)
You can find Semipalmated Sandpipers, usually in flocks of hundreds or thousands, in coastal mudflats during spring and fall migration. Their breeding habitat is on low tundra not too far from marshes or ponds.
Semipalmated Sandpipers forage in shallow water on mudflats for aquatic insects like snails, worms, and crustaceans.
Semipalmated Sandpiper calls:
Nests of Semipalmated Sandpipers shallow scrapes built by males. Females add grass, sedge, moss and leaves from willow or birch. She will then lay four eggs which both parents incubate for about twenty days.
Fun Facts: The Semipalmated Sandpiper gets its name “Semipalmated” from the short webs between its toes, as “palmated” means “webbed”.
18. Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpipers are spotted in Alabama during migration, especially from March to May and July to September.
Pectoral Sandpipers are stocky, medium-sized “grasspipers” that are frequently seen on grassy marshes instead of mudflats.
Breeding adults are streaked and scalloped brown with white bellies, yellow legs, and bills that are darker at the top than the base.
Nonbreeding adults have a similar pattern of heavy streaking but are mostly gray or light brown. Juveniles are similar but they have finely streaked heads, necks, and breasts. Their backs and wings are brown with rufous edges.
- Calidris melanotos
- Length: 8 – 9.6 in (20 – 24 cm)
- Weight: 2.6 oz (73 g)
- Wingspan: 18 in (46 cm)
You can find Pectoral Sandpipers in grassy wetlands. Their breeding grounds are mostly in wet coastal tundra with a lot of grasses and sedges.
Pectoral Sandpipers mostly eat aquatic insects, small crustaceans, and very small fish. They usually poke and probe through grass and mud with their bills.
Pectoral Sandpiper call:
Nests of Pectoral Sandpipers are often depressions built on dry, raised ground and lined with grass and moss.
She will then lay four eggs that hatch after twenty-two days. The male does not share any responsibility for protecting the eggs and rearing the young. When the eggs hatch, the chicks are able to fend for themselves but their mother still looks after them. They can fly in about three weeks.
Fun Fact: Pectoral Sandpipers get their “Pectoral” name from the inflatable air sacs on the males’ throats which puff up during courtship displays. The name also sometimes refers to the sharp line on their chests.
19. Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpipers migrate across Alabama but some spend winter along the coast.
Western Sandpipers, especially those in breeding plumage, are considered the most colorful of tiny North American “peeps”. They are also one of the most abundant shorebirds in North America.
Breeding Western Sandpipers are scalloped brown, black, white and gold on their backs and wings and are white underneath. They have brown mottled heads and chests and short dark legs. In flight, they have a black stripe down the center of the tail.
Nonbreeding Western Sandpipers are hard to distinguish from Semipalmated Sandpipers in their winter plumage. They are both pale gray above and white below. Western Sandpipers have few streaking on their breast.
Juveniles are more similar to nonbreeding adults but their backs are more scaly-looking.
- Calidris mauri
- Length: 5.5 – 6.7 in (14 – 17 cm)
- Weight: 0.8 – 1.2 oz (22 – 35 g)
- Wingspan: 13.8 – 14.6 in (35 – 37 cm)
You can find Western Sandpipers in dry tundra with plenty of sedges and grasses during the nesting season. During migration, they congregate in flocks of thousands around beaches and marshes.
Western Sandpipers hunt in very shallow water. With females having longer bills, they tend to forage by probing more. Males often hunt visually and resort to pecking to capture their prey. They eat insects, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, and marine worms.
Western Sandpiper call:
Nests of Western Sandpipers are depressions on the ground concealed under some vegetation and lined with soft material. The female will lay two to four eggs and both parents will share in the responsibility of incubating the eggs for three weeks.
Chicks hatch and are able to feed themselves. They take about three weeks to learn how to fly.
Fun Facts: Female Western Sandpipers are larger and have longer bills than males.
20. American Oystercatcher
American Oystercatchers are found along the coast of Alabama all year but they are not very common here.
American Oystercatchers are eye-catching waterbirds because of their bright, red-orange, blade-like bills that are perfect to open shellfish.
Their yellow eyes, outlined in the same bright red-orange, glow eerily against the black coloring on their heads, throats, and breasts. Their backs and wings are brown and their underparts are white.
Males and females appear similar. Juveniles are also similar to adults except that they have dark eyes and their bills are dark-tipped but have the same orange glow. Their coloring is paler compared to the adults.
- Haematopus palliatus
- Length: 17 – 21 in (43 – 53 cm)
- Weight: 22.4 oz (635 g)
- Wingspan: 32 in (81 cm)
You can find American Oystercatchers in coastal environments, including beaches, mudflats or salt flats. During storms, they take refuge in open habitats like agricultural fields.
American Oystercatchers feed on a specialized diet of shellfish, like oysters, mussels, clams, sea urchins, starfish, and crabs. They insert their blade-like bills into partially-opened shells and sever the muscle that causes the shells to close. Some of them opt to smash the shells open with the tip of their bills.
American Oystercatcher Calls:
Nests of American Oystercatchers are usually scrapes on sand and lined with some plants, broken shells, and pebbles. Females will lay two to four eggs which they take turns incubating for twenty-six days.
Chicks can run within two hours of hatching but they will need to be taken care of for up to sixty days until their bills become strong enough to break open mollusks on their own.
Fun Fact: American Oystercatchers were originally called “sea pies” but were later renamed when naturalist Mark Catesby saw them eating oysters.
Soras are winter birds in Alabama and are spotted from September to May.
Sora are usually heard rather than seen, but their plump brown and gray bodies and bright yellow bills are easy to identify give the chance.
They are the most abundant rail in North America, not that you are likely to see them!
- Porzana carolina
Sora breed in Canada and most of the US and spend winter in the coastal southern United States, Mexico and Central and northern South America.
You can find sora in freshwater wetlands walking slowly and exposing their white undertail feathers with a flick of the tail.
Soras eat seeds mainly but will also aquatic insects and invertebrates given the chance.
Nests of Sora are made on mounds from woven cattails and sedges at the edges of wetlands.
Fun Fact: Soras find a mate by staring for at each other for as long as half an hour.
22. Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilts spend the breeding season in Alabama and are mainly spotted along the coast from March to October.
Black-necked Stilts are fragile-looking black and white shorebirds with long and thin reddish-pink legs.
Males and females look similar except that females are brown-tinged instead of black. Juveniles look similar to adults but they have a faint scalloped pattern on their backs and they have paler legs.
- Himantopus mexicanus
- Length: 14 – 15.5 in (36 – 39 cm)
- Weight: 5.3 – 6.2 oz (150 – 180 g)
- Wingspan: 25 – 27 in (64 – 69 cm)
You can find Black-necked Stilts in shallow wetlands with limited vegetation like flooded areas near rivers, shallow lagoons, saltmarshes, mangrove swamps, and mudflats. They also visit agricultural fields, sewage ponds, and rice fields.
Black-necked Stilts usually wade in shallow water to capture small crustaceans, snails, amphibians, and small fish. Occasionally, they will also eat insects and frogs.
They will submerge their heads in water or move their bills side to side to capture their prey. They are also known to chase fish into the shallows where they have a better chance of capturing them.
Black-necked Stilt Calls:
Nests of Black-necked Stilts are found near water and they make a depression on the ground lined with grass, shells, and pebbles. The female lays two to five eggs that take around four weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: Black-necked stilts have the second longest legs of any bird, in proportion to their bodies. Flamingos have the longest legs.
23. American Avocet
American Avocets breed along the coast of Alabama but they are also spotted across the rest of the state during migration.
American Avocets are elegant black and white birds with long black bills and blue-gray legs. Breeding adults have oranged tinged heads and breasts.
Juveniles look more like older chicks, in that they have grayish-brown and downy feathers. Their bills are also still straight, without the upward curve at the end.
- Recurvirostra americana
- Length: 18 – 20 in (46 – 51 cm)
- Weight: 11.1 oz (315 g)
- Wingspan: 27 – 38 in (69 – 97 cm)
You can find American Avocets in shallow water that’s less than eight inches deep. Breeding grounds are in areas with little vegetation. During winter, you may find them in rice fields, flooded pastures, intertidal mudflats, and tidal lagoons.
American Avocets forage for food while wading or swimming in shallow water. They are known to use a method called “scything” in which they move their bills from side to side in the water as they capture their prey in their partially open bills. They usually catch small fish, shrimp, and seeds.
American Avocet Calls:
Nests of American Avocets are scrapes on the ground, usually located on islands or mucky shorelines and close to the water, and lined with feathers or pebbles. The female then lays three to four eggs that take three to four weeks to hatch. Young chicks can fend for themselves immediately after being born.
Fun Fact: American Avocets nest in loose colonies and defend their territories as a group. If a predator manages to penetrate the colony, it will find itself surrounded by several adult avocets trying to distract it.
24. King Rail
King Rails are near-threatened species in Alabama but they are usually spotted in the state during migration from March to May.
The King Rail is the largest North American Rail. Its mottled brown back and flanks help to camouflague it in the marsh. It has a long neck and legs and heavy bill.
Juveniles are similar but darker and with shorter bills.
- Rallus elegans
- Length: 15.0-18.9 in (38-48 cm)
- Weight: 11.3-15.0 oz (320-425 g)
- Wingspan: 19.7-20.5 in (50-52 cm)
King Rails are resident all year on the East Coast of the US but those that breed inland migrate to the coast for winter.
You can find King Rail in marshes, both freshwater and brackish. They hunt for crabs and crayfish but will also eat insects, frogs, and small snakes or mammals.
King Rail calls:
Nests of King Rail are built on platforms in shallow water by the males from grass and vegetation. They may build a ramp to the water.
The female lays about 11 eggs which take three weeks to hatch. They care for the young for 2 months.
Fun Fact: King Rails often call at night.
25. Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitchers are not very common in Alabama but they spend winter along the coast. Their numbers also increase during migration in April and from October to November.
Long-billed Dowitchers are aptly named because their black bills are twice as long as their heads. Breeding adult Long-billed Dowitchers have a beautiful rusty-orange color and are darker on the back.
Non-breeding adult Long-billed Dowitchers are generally gray overall. Juveniles are a combination of breeding and non-breeding adults. They have grayish heads and breasts like the non-breeding adults but are mottled brown and cinnamon on top like the breeding ones.
- Limnodromus scolopaceus
- Length: 11 – 12.5 in (28 – 32 cm)
- Weight: 4.76 oz (135 g)
- Wingspan: 18 – 20 in (46 – 51 cm)
You can find Long-billed Dowitchers in muddy wet areas such as wet meadows, tidal flats, and marshes. They prefer shallow freshwater areas than saltwater.
Long-billed Dowitchers mostly eat insects like beetles, caterpillars, and midges and their larvae. When they probe the wet and muddy ground, they can capture mollusks, clams, marine worms, and some plants.
Their bills are very sensitive and they have excellent night vision so they can take advantage of foraging at night.
Long-billed Dowitcher Calls:
Nests of Long-billed Dowitchers are shallow depressions lined with grass, usually located on elevated grounds near small ponds. The female lays four eggs and they take twenty days to hatch. Once they’re hatched, it’s the male that takes care of the chicks until they fledge.
Fun Fact: The Long-billed Dowitcher used to be indistinguishable from the Short-billed Dowitcher but now they are recognized as separate species. Their call is different is the best way to tell.
26. Red Knot
Red Knots are near-threatened species in Alabama and although they are not very common here, there have been sightings along the coast all year.
Red Knots may be underwhelming in their winter colors but they’re stunning during the breeding season. In flight, their white wing bars and gray rumps and tails make them easy to identify.
Red Knots have small heads, medium-length thin bills, and stocky bodies. Breeding adults are eye-catching with their rusty cinnamon coloring.
Their heads have some light brown streaking on the crown and their backs and wings have gray, brown, and rusty mottling. Their throats, necks, and underparts are cinnamon-colored. Their bills and legs are black.
Nonbreeding adults and immature Red Knots look similar. They are mostly pale gray above and white below with some fine streaking underneath.
Juveniles are gray above and white below. They have a scaly pattern on their backs. They also have prominent white eyebrows. Their legs are yellow.
- Calidris canutus
- Length: 9.1 – 10.6 in (23 – 27 cm)
- Weight: 4.4 – 7.2 oz (125 – 205 g)
- Wingspan: 22.4 – 23.6 in (57 – 60 cm)
You can find Red Knots in the tundra where plenty of lichens and grasses grow during the nesting season. Once the young are able to fly, they move toward sedge meadows and lakeshores to fatten themselves up in preparation for their long-distance migration.
Red Knots eat a lot of mussels, clams, and cockles most of the year and they also probe in the mud for other delights. Horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay are an essential food for migrating Red Knots.
In the breeding grounds, Red Knots feed on seeds, shoots, buds, and leaves of grasses plus insects.
Red Knot call:
Nests of Red Knots are prepared by males and they make as many as 5 nest sites for the female to choose from. These are usually located on dry tundra and near water.
The female Red Knot usually lays up to four eggs and both adults incubate the eggs for about three weeks. When the eggs hatch, the young are able to forage with their parents within a day.
Fun Fact: Female Red Knots leave their young before they fledge and the male takes over parenting duties. The male soon leaves for their migration and the young will migrate on their own.
27. American Woodcock
American Woodcocks spend winter in Alabama and are mainly spotted from December to February.
American Woodcocks are the only species of woodcocks in North America and are distinctive with their large eyes and long beaks on short stocky bodies.
They have a funny bouncing walk.
They are a combination of gray, black, and cinnamon which is perfect camouflage among the leaves on the forest floor, where they tend to be rather than on the shore.
- Scolopax minor
- Length: 9.8 – 12.2 in (25 – 31 cm)
- Weight: 4.1 – 9.8 oz (116 – 279 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5 – 18.9 in (42 – 48 cm)
You can find American Woodcocks in wet thickets, moist woods, old fields, and brushy swamps.
In spring and summer, males launch themselves into the air so they can perform their “sky dance”, their courtship ritual to attract females.
American Woodcocks’ main food is earthworms. Their long and straight bills are perfect for digging in moist, wet soil.
American Woodcock call:
Nests of American Woodcocks are usually on the ground in open woods or overgrown fields and made from dead leaves. The female lays up to 3 eggs which she alone incubates for 3 weeks and she also cares for the young alone.
Fun Facts: American Woodcocks will make a rocking motion with their bodies while foraging with the intent of disturbing earthworms hidden in the soil.
28. Virginia Rail
Virginia Rails are spotted in Alabama during winter from September to April but they are not very common here.
Virginia Rails are secretive chicken-like waterbirds that are fairly common but more often heard than seen.
Adults are generally rusty brown with gray faces and red-orange downward-curved bills. Their backs and wings are heavily streaked with brown.
Adults are similar but females are smaller. Juveniles are darker.
- Rallus limicola
- Length: 7.9 – 10.6 in (20 – 27 cm)
- Weight: 2.3 – 3.4 oz (65 – 95 g)
- Wingspan: 12.6 – 15.0 in (32 – 38 cm)
You can find Virginia Rails in shallow freshwater and brackish marshes with tall stands of cattails and bulrushes. In winter, they may be found in coastal salt marshes.
Virginia Rails use their bills to probe the mud for food and mostly eat insects like beetles, flies, dragonflies, snails, and earthworms. During winter, they may supplement their diet with plants and seeds.
Virginia Rail call:
Nests of Virginia Rails are built on floating or dense clumps of vegetation. They’re usually in dry areas over very shallow water. Both adults weave cattails, reeds, and grasses together to create a basket-type of nest. They also weave a canopy of plant vegetation over the nest.
The female lays four to thirteen eggs which take about three weeks to hatch. They continue to care for their young for about two to three weeks after they hatch.
Fun Facts: Virginia Rails are slim and have adapted strong forehead feathers that are suited to constant wear and tear from pushing through dense vegetation
29. Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwits are not very common in Alabama but you might spot some along the coast during migration.
Marbled Godwits are striking shorebirds with their large cinnamon-colored bodies, long, swordlike bills, and long blue-gray legs.
Nonbreeding adults look like breeding adults except that they don’t have any barring or markings on their underparts. Their bills are also pink at the base, not orange, but still dark at the tips.
- Limosa fedoa
- Length: 16.5 – 18.9 in (42 – 48 cm)
- Weight: 10.1 – 16.0 oz (285 – 454 g)
- Wingspan: 27.6 – 31.9 in (70 – 81 cm)
You can find Marbled Godwits on mudflats, salt ponds, beaches, estuaries, and wetlands during migration and on wintering grounds where they congregate with other shorebirds. During the breeding season, they are often found in shortgrass prairies near marshes and ponds.
Marbled Godwits usually forage by probing deeply into water or mud with their long bills. They eat insects, mollusks, small fish, and crustaceans which they find by touch.
In their breeding grounds, they typically feed on terrestrial insects like grasshoppers as well as the roots and seeds of aquatic plants.
Marbled Godwit call:
Nests of Marbled Godwits are usually built on short grass on dry ground with a source of water nearby. The female lays three to five eggs which hatch in about three weeks.
When the eggs hatch, the young are capable of feeding themselves but their parents still tend to them. They are capable of flight in about three weeks.
Fun Fact: Marbled Godwits sleep standing on one leg while their bills are tucked into their body.
Whimbrels are not often spotted in Alabama but there have been some sightings along the coast during the breeding season.
Whimbrels have very long downturned bills and look similar to Long-billed Curlews. They are mottled brown above with lighter mottling below.
- Numenius phaeopus
- Length: 16.9-18.1 in (43-46 cm)
- Weight: 10.9-14.3 oz (310-404 g)
- Wingspan: 31.5-32.7 in (80-83 cm)
Whimbrels breed in the arctic and migrate to the coast of the US and Central America for winter.
You can find Whimbrels on mudflats and wet sand where they use their long bills to poke in looking for crabs in winter.
In Spring and summer, they breed on the arctic tundra and feed on berries and insects.
Nests of Whimbrel are small depressions pressed into hummocks and lined with grass and lichen. They lay 2-4 eggs which take 2 to 3 weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: During the breeding season males perform dramatic displays of flight and song. He flies high up and slowly glides down in circles while singing.
31. Wilson’s Phalarope
Although they are not very common here, Wilson’s Phalaropes are spotted in Alabama during migration from April to May and July to October.
Wilson’s Phalaropes are eye-catching birds and the largest of the phalaropes, you will see them spinning around kicking up food. They have small heads, long necks, thin, straight black bills, and long black legs.
Females are more colorful and larger than males and they leave the rearing of young to them.
Breeding females have gray crowns, white faces, peach or light cinnamon necks, blue-gray upperparts, white underparts, and reddish flank patches, and a black stripe on their face and neck.
Breeding male Wilson’s Phalaropes are less colorful than females. They do not have the neck stripe and the reddish flank patches.
Nonbreeding adults are mostly gray on their crowns and upperparts. Their underparts are white. Juveniles have brown caps, scaled pattern gray, brown, and rufous upperparts, and white underparts.
- Phalaropus tricolor
- Length: 8.7 – 9.4 in (22 – 24 cm)
- Weight: 1.3 – 3.9 oz (38 – 110 g)
- Wingspan: 15.3 – 16.9 in (39 – 43 m)
You can find Wilson’s Phalaropes in salt marshes during winter. During the breeding season, they breed in wetlands and shrubby areas.
Though Wilson’s Phalaropes are shorebirds, they spin round and round in the water creating a whirlpool that brings midges, shrimp, and seeds to the surface.
While on the shore, they pick off prey from the surface or probe the soft mud.
Wilson’s Phalarope call:
Nests of Wilson’s Phalaropes are usually on the ground in freshwater marshes. The female selects the site and lays her eggs in a simple scrape on the ground. She lays three to four eggs and then migrates south.
The male stays and reinforces the nest, and incubates the eggs for about three to four weeks. The young can find their own food within a day of hatching.
Fun fact: With Wilson’s Phalaropes, the roles of females are reversed. They are more colorful and larger than males, take the lead in courtship, don’t incubate their eggs and they leave the rearing of their young to the male.
32. Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalaropes are not often spotted in Alabama but there have been a few sightings during migration in May and September.
Red-necked Phalarope are small long-necked shorebirds with thin bills. They are black and white in the non-breeding season and gray with rusty necks in the breeding season.
Females are brighter than the males in the breeding season but they look the same in the non-breeding season. Juveniles are also black and white.
- Phalaropus lobatus
- Length: 7.1-7.5 in (18-19 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.4 oz (27-40 g)
- Wingspan: 12.6-16.1 in (32-41 cm)
Red-necked Phalaropes have a wide range, mainly in the northern hemisphere, but they are found as far south as northern Australia.
You can find Red-necked Phalaropes around lakes and marshes in the arctic tundra during the breeding season, but they usually spend winter out at sea.
Small aquatic invertebrates such as zooplankton are the main diet of Red-necked Phalaropes. They catch their food by spinning rapidly in circles on the surface of the water, which causes the invertebrates to swirl to the surface.
Red-necked Phalaropes calls:
Nests of Red-necked Phalaropes are built on mossy hummocks in the tundra and lined with grasses and sedges. They lay u to six eggs which take 3 – 4 weeks to hatch.
Fun Fact: Unusually, female Red-necked Phalaropes are larger and brighter than males and do the competing to win mates. The males however do all the incubation and caring of the young.
33. Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlews have been spotted in Alabama during migration but they are not very common in the state.
Long-billed Curlews are the largest shorebirds in North America. They’re easily recognizable for their extremely long, thin, and downcurved bills.
Long-Billed Curlews have small heads, long necks, and brown streaked football-shaped bodies with a cinnamon wash on the flanks and belly.
Female Long-billed Curlews are much larger than males and have longer bills.
- Numenius Americanus
- Length: 19.7 – 25. 6 in (50 – 65 cm)
- Weight: 17.3 – 33.5 oz (490 – 950 g)
- Wingspan: 24.4 – 35.0 in (62 – 89 cm)
You can find Long-billed Curlews in wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, and beaches. During the breeding season, they stay in dry grasslands and sagebrush prairie with damp low spots that serve as feeding areas for their young.
With their long, downward-curved bills they are able to forage for earthworms, mollusks, and crayfish. On grasslands, they eat beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, plus spiders, toads, and the eggs of other birds.
Long-billed Curlew call:
Nests of Long-billed Curlews are initially made by courting males. They scrape several hollows in the ground on open prairies. The female adds pebbles, bark, grass, stems, and twigs to the nest.
After the nest is built, the female will lay four eggs. Both males and females incubate the eggs for about four weeks. Once the eggs hatch, the young are able to leave the nest to feed within hours. The female leaves the brood to the male after a couple of weeks.
Fun Fact: Long-billed Curlews are also called “sicklebird” and “candlestick bird”.