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Types of Birds
Sandpipers (Calidris) account for nineteen of the Scolopacidae sixty-six species, making it the family's largest North American genera.
Known for their small size, the sandpipers accompany humans along the continent's salt and fresh water shorelines. The five specie presented here, fairly represent the genera.
The Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), top picture, ranks as North America's smallest shorebird. During migration they seek out food in freshwater mudflats, and often congregate in large flocks.
Dull yellow legs and a bill that looks long compared to the short body tend to characterize the species.
The Dunlin (Calidris alpina), another small shorebird, grows only a bit larger than most of the peeps it hangs out with during migration.
A lack stomach patch makes them one of the easiest of the smaller shorebirds to identify during the breeding season.
Picture two shows a dunlin in non-breeding plumage. The black legs and long curved black bill serve as the primary field identification guides.
They are hardy birds, breeding in northern Alaska and the northern Hudson Bay region. They winter as far north as the Pacific Northwest Coast and Mid-Atlantic Coast.
In some locations, dunlin populations tend to be very dense, exceed ten thousand individuals during the winter months.
Moving up the size scale a bit, Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) rank among the long distance shorebird champions, typically breeding in northern latitudes like Canada and Alaska. Most migrate to South America for the winter.
Flying such a long distance means they make inland and coastal appearances across the continent during their migrations.
Pectorals grow a bit larger than the smaller sandpipers. The orange-reddish coloring at the base of the bill provides a good field identification clue.
Their diet consists mostly of insects and other aquatic organisms they find in the mudflats.
Sanderlings (Calidris alba) commonly get descried as the shorebird that runs up and down the beach with the tide while they search for food.
Like other smaller sandpipers, they breed in northern freshwater locations as far north as the Arctic circle. Unlike other sandpipers, they chart an expanded southern migrate route, along coastal beach areas world wide.
Medium sized, with black legs, their top feathers range from chestnut to gray, depending on the season.
The Sanderling in picture four displays its non-breeding plumage. They often congregate in groups.
Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri) often congregate in large numbers across many North American locations.
Contrary to the name, their range extends as far east as the coastal areas of the South Atlantic.
Identification can be a fairly straightforward task that begins by documenting a pair of black legs on a small sandpiper.
© 2005-2011 Patricia A. Michaels