Winter Shorebird Identification

by J. Bruce Neill, Ph.D., Director of Education, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

Like many terms in biology, the word shorebird can be misleading. In its broadest usage, it means exactly what it says, birds that frequent, or are found along a shoreline. More commonly, we use it in a narrower sense, referring to a collection of biologically related birds, with relatively short legs – the sandpipers and plovers, that primarily live along shorelines.

Relative leg length distinguishes shorebirds from wading birds (herons and egrets), most of whom have long legs and at times, do frequent shorelines. We have nothing against wading birds, we just like to organize living things into groups more manageable by our brains. Wading birds and shorebirds just fall into different biological categories.

In ecology, when two habitats meet, the transitional zone between them is called an ecotone. Ecotones often support large numbers of species. What most of us call the shoreline (or beach) is an ecotone between water and land – both habitats contributing to the complexity of a very rich unique biological habitat.

Shorebirds are fascinating to watch as they follow waves back and forth, gleaning the riches of the ocean from the shores of land. They can also be very difficult to identify, especially in the winter.

Fortunately, we have a shorebird expert, willing to help us learn to identify and better enjoy Sanibel’s shorebirds. Audrey Albrecht, a Shorebird Biologist and Coastal Wildlife Manager for SCCF will hold a shorebird class from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Feb. 27, at Sanibel Sea School.

Join us for a great time while learning more about our fascinating shorebirds. Call Sanibel Sea School at (239) 472-8585, or visit our website for registration details.

Part of the SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) Family, Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.

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