Many different types of birds can be found on beach shores: gulls, waterfowl, terns and raptors, but when birders use the term “shorebirds” they are referring to specific types of birds that are distinct in body shape and behavior. There are several types of shorebirds that can occupy beaches, estuaries, marshes and other shores, and understanding the subtle differences between each type can help you learn to identify them more easily.
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Shorebirds come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them share certain characteristics, including a preference for wet habitats and shorelines, physically round heads and very useful bills to probe for food in the sand, gravel and water. The term shorebird covers several related bird families that are part of this distinct group.
The most diverse category of shorebirds is the sandpipers. Sizes and colorations range greatly, but all of these birds have sensitive bills they use to probe through the sand when feeding. While there are many species that include “sandpiper” in the name, other species such as turnstones, phalaropes, yellowlegs, snipes and dowitchers are also sandpipers.