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 Alaska In Summer: Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, Western Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover, Wandering Tattler, Solitary Sandpiper, Surfbird
Shorebirds In Alaska In Winter: Killdeer
Shorebirds In Alaska In Migration: Sanderling, Red Knot, Marbled Godwit
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.
23 Shorebirds In Alaska
1. Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Snipes spend the breeding season in Alaska and are most common from April to September but some are spotted in the southeast of the state during migration and even a few during winter.
They are recorded in 12% of summer checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
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)
Wilson’s Snipe breed in Canada and north Us states before migrating to the US coast, southern and eastern US states and Central America.
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.
2. Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalaropes are spotted in Alaska during the breeding season, mainly along the coast from April to October. They appear in 12% of summer checklists.
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.
3. Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs breed in Alaska and occur in 8% of summer checklists. They are most common from April to October.
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)
Greater Yellowlegs that breed in Canada and the United States generally migrate to the Gulf Coast and Central America. They are also found in South America.
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.
4. Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs are recorded in 9% of summer checklists. They arrive in Alaska in April and start to migrate in October.
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)
Lesser Yellowlegs breed in Canada and the United States and migrate to southern US states, Central and South America.
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. Females lay 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.
5. Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plovers spend the breeding season in Alaska and appear in 9% of summer checklists. They arrive in mid-April and start migrating in October.
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)
Semipalmated Plovers that breed in Canada and northeastern US states migrate after breeding but those along the US, Central
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.
6. Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpipers are spotted along the coast of Alaska during the breeding season, from April to October. They occur in 7% of summer checklists.
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 and have short dark legs. In flight, they have a black stripe down the center of the tail.
Nonbreeding adults 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)
Western Sandpipers breed mainly in Alaska and western Canada and migrate to the Pacific and Atlantic US coast, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
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.
7. Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpipers breed along the north and west coast of Alaska but they are also spotted across the rest of the state during migration. They are spotted from April to November and are recorded in 6% of summer checklists.
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)
Pectoral Sandpipers breed in the arctic and Great Plains and migrate to South America and Australia.
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 help protect the eggs or rear the young. The young 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.
Dunlins spend winter along the south coast of Alaska and a few also stay all year but they are most common along the north and west coast during the breeding season. They appear in 7% of summer checklists and 1% of winter checklists.
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 near water in the subarctic and arctic tundra around the world 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.
9. Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpipers are near-threatened species in Alaska but they breed along the coast from May to September. They occur in 7% of summer checklists.
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)
Semipalmated Sandpipers breed in Canada and the eastern US and migrate to Central and South America and the Caribbean.
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”.
10. Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpipers are recorded in 6% of summer checklists. They are spotted in Alaska from April to October.
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)
Least Sandpipers breed in Canada and the Great Plains before migrating to the US coast, southern US states Central and northern North America.
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.
11. Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitchers are found along the north and west coast of Alaska during the breeding season from May to October. They appear in 5% of summer checklists.
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 recognised as separate species. There call is different is the best way to tell.
12. Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpipers breed in Alaska and are mainly spotted from May to September. They occur in 5% of summer checklists.
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)
Spotted Sandpipers breed in Canada and the US before migrating to the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and Central, and South America.
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.
13. Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstones are spotted along the north and west coast of Alaska during the breeding season, from May to October. They are also seen along the south coast during migration. They are recorded in 3% of summer checklists.
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)
Ruddy Turnstones breed in the arctic and migrate to coastal regions around the world.
You can find Ruddy Turnstones along shorelines, sandy beaches, and mudflats. They favor beaches with plenty of seaweed or debris.
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.
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.
14. Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitchers are spotted in the southwest of Alaska from April to October.
The Short-billed Dowitcher dark bill is actually 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 bodies and are cinnamon-colored underneath with varying degrees of spots and bars.
They have dark-brown crowns and their legs are long and dark yellow-green.
Non-breeding adults are grayer with 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.
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)
Short-billed Dowitchers breed predominantly in Canada before migrating to the coats of the southern United States, Central and South America.
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 rapidly probe 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 the Short-billed Dowitcher from the Long-billed Dowitcher. However, the Short-billed Dowitcher’s call is more mellow.
Whimbrels spend the breeding season in Alaska and are spotted in 4% of summer checklists. They arrive in April and start to migrate in September.
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.
16. Black-bellied Plover
Black-bellied Plovers breed in Alaska and are spotted along the coast mainly from April to October. They appear in 3% of summer 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 from Canada.
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).
17. Wandering Tattler
Wandering Tattlers occur in 2% of summer checklists. They are spotted in Alaska from mid-April to October.
Wandering Tattlers are unremarkable gray birds with lighter bellies with more barring in breeding plumage.
They bob their tails and have a white stripe through the eye and yellow legs.
- Tringa incana
- Length: 10.2-11.8 in (26-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.1-6.0 oz (60-169 g)
- Wingspan: 19.7-21.6 in (50-55 cm)
Wandering Tattlers breed in Alaska, northwestern Canada and East Russia before migrating to the Pacific coast of North and South America.
You can find Wandering Tattlers in alpine tundra during the breeding season and rocky coastal habitats in winter.
Wandering Tattlers eat insects and invertebrates by sight and pick them off plants and rocks or catch crabs as the waves recede.
Wandering Tattler calls:
Nests of Wandering Tattlers are depressions on the ground among the pebbles near mountain streams. They are lined with twigs and leaves.
Fun Fact: Wandering Tattlers get their name from their presence on islands across a vast area across the Pacific.
18. Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpipers are spotted in Alaska from May to September and are recorded in 2% of summer checklists.
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)
Solitary Sandpipers breed in Canada and migrate to Central and South America.
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.
Surfbirds are mainly spotted in Alaska during the breeding season but they are also spotted along the south coast during migration and in the southeast of the state during winter.
Surfbirds are gray and white shorebirds which are speckled in the breeding season and dark on top and light below during winter. They have yellow legs and bills.
Juveniles are like nonbreeding adults but paler.
- Calidris virgata
Surfbirds breed in Alaska and northwestern Alpine Canada. During winter they range in a thin strip of the Pacific coast from Alaska down to southern Chile.
You can find Surfbirds on the edge of rocky ocean shores but they breed in the arctic mountains.
Surfbirds eat marine invertabrates in winter and insects in summer.
Nests of surfbirds are scrapes on the alpine tundra of the arctic and lined with lichen.
Fun Fact: Surfbirds lack the chisel like bill of other shorebirds so swallow mussels whole shell included.
Sanderlings are usually spotted along the coast of Alaska during migration and in the southeast of the state during winter.
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.
Killdeers are not very common in Alaska but they spend winter in the southeast of the state and a few also hang around all year.
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.
22. Red Knot
Red Knots are near-threatened species in Alaska. Some are spotted along the west coast during summer but their numbers increase in the west of the state during migration.
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)
Red Knots are breed in the arctic and migrate to coasts of North and South America. They are also found in Eurasia.
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 the 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.
23. Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwits are not often spotted in Alaska but you might spot a few in the southeast of the state 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)
Marbled Godwits breed in the Prairies of Canada and the Great Plains. They migrate to the coasts of the United States, and Central America.
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.