Shorebirds, Pacific Northwest
Walking along any of our coastal beaches, in the early morning, just at daylight at low tide you can see and hear many of shorebirds that frequent our coast. The squawk of the great blue heron as it takes to flight in the early morning light or sandpipers running up and down the beach with each wave. So take a walk on one of the many beaches. I am sure you will enjoy it.
The Great Blue Heron resides along lakes, ponds, rivers, and marshes from coastal B.C. all the way to Mexico.
This adaptable bird’s large size enables it to prey on a variety of animals including fish, mice, small birds, and insects. This wide variety of feed enables the heron to stay farther north during the winter months, longer than other species. When foraging, they will stand silently along coastal beaches, riverbanks, lake shores, or in wet meadows, waiting for prey to come by, which they then strike with their bills. Sometimes they get more than they bargained for and struggle to swallow their catch, watch the video to see more of this.
They will also stalk prey slowly and deliberately. Although they hunt predominantly by day, they may also be active at night. They are solitary or small-group foragers, but they nest in colonies. Males typically choose shoreline areas for foraging, and females and juveniles forage in more upland areas.
The young herons disperse in the late summer and can be found at small ponds, in mountain waters or wherever there is fish.
Among North American shorebirds, the Black Turnstone is a common sight on the Pacific coast. The pattern of its plumage makes it quite invisible while foraging on the rocky shores or when flying above the rough seas. Its name refers to its ability to flip over objects to get at foods like algae, hard-shelled invertebrates, and other crustaceans below. When feeding, it uses its specialized bill for prying loose mussels and barnacles.
The black turnstone is strictly a bird of western North America and is seldom found away from the coasts marine environment. It breeds in a narrow band along the coast of western Alaska.
These birds appear to be the self-appointed sentinel of its nesting community. It shrieks warnings of predators and relentlessly pursues them, occasionally making contact and even pulling out feathers or fur.
The Black Turnstone return to the same nest and pair with the same mate year after year. They nest on the ground, among grasses close to water. The nest is sometimes out in the open, sometimes hidden by tall vegetation. The nest is shallow bowl scraped in the ground and lined with grass. Both parents take turns incubating the four eggs about 23 days. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and find their own food. Both parents tend the young, but the female leaves about two weeks after they hatch, but the male cares for the young until they are independent. They begin to make short flights at 23 days and have mastered sustained flight by 28-30 days.
The species leaves its breeding grounds in early summer and heads to its non-breeding areas that cover the entire Pacific Northwest Coast. During low tide, this birds presence in these cryptic habitats is often betrayed only by its raucous, scolding vocalizations as they blend into the beach so well. Beginning in April they are again on the move north to their nesting grounds.
The killdeer is a noisy plover with black and white breast stripes. Reddish back. It can be found in fields, stony dry areas as well as around water. The killdeer is a medium-sized plover.
Adults have a brown back and wings, a white belly, and a white breast with two black bands. The rump is tawny orange. The face and cap are brown with a white forehead. They have an orange-red eye ring.
Their breeding habitat is open fields or lawns, often quite far from water, across most of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, with isolated populations in Costa Rica and Peru. The Pacific Northwest Coastal Region has a very large population of Killdeer.
They nest on the ground in an open area with a clear line of sight, or on a gravel roof. They are migratory in northern areas and winter as far south as northern South America.
They are rare vagrants to western Europe, usually late in the year. These birds forage for food in fields, mudflats, and shores, usually by sight. They mainly eat insects.
Killdeer will pair up on the nesting grounds, and some nest together for more than 1 season. Both adults help in building the nest, a simple scrape in the ground, lined with grass, weeds, and feathers. Scrapes are located in soil or gravel in an open area. Females typically lay up to 4 eggs. Both sexes take turns incubating them, with males incubating more often during the night. The young are tended by both parents. A pair may raise more than one brood a season.
Their name comes from their call, frequently heard. These birds will frequently use the “broken wing act” to distract predators from their nests. Their ability to exploit a wide range of agricultural and semi-urban habitat has helped keep them common and widespread in their range.
Take some time to wander around the shores of various types of waterways and keep your eyes open and you just might see some very beautiful birds.
The Pacific Northwest Coastal Region has many shorebirds, all are fascinating to observe. An estimated two million shorebirds migrate annually through our area to and from their breeding grounds in the Arctic, many more breed and nest along our coast. Some species fly for days without rest or food and travel thousands of km to reach their breeding grounds. They arrive on our coast in the spring and leave in the fall.
The Spotted Sandpiper is around 17 cm long. During breeding, it has dark bars on brown above and heavy round, black spots below, the bill is pink at the base and its legs are pinky orange. It turns pale gray-brown with white underparts in the fall and winter.
It has brownish patches on the sides of the breast and a white eyebrow. The bill turns dark; the legs turn a dull greenish yellow or flesh color. The juveniles look like the adults but have dark edges to the feathers on the back and wings.
The female spotted sandpiper is more aggressive than the male and practices polyandry and mates with more than one male. She may lay up to 5 clutches with various males. Each male incubates the eggs for her while she seeks yet another mate. The males take care of all the parental tasks and the female defends the territories of all of her males.
The spotted sandpiper has a wide range of habitats; it is common in freshwater habitats and can be found at lakes, rivers, and ponds in suburban areas as well as the Alaskan tundra. It can be found singly or in pairs walking near fresh water throughout North and South America. It forms small flocks during migration and winters in Central and South America.
The female spotted sandpiper will choose a temperate region for breeding; the longer season this allows her to raise more than one brood. The male incubates the eggs for 3 weeks. When the chicks hatch, they have feathers and are ready to find their own food, but the father usually stays with them for the first few weeks and teaches them where to find food. The chicks will teeter soon after they hatch. They are able to fly within 20 days. The spotted sandpiper bobs its tail constantly and even when standing teeters obsessively. The teetering will stop when the bird is alarmed, courting or aggressive. When the bird is nervous, the teetering is faster. Only its wing tips flutter when it flies and it will usually go only a few yards and then stop. The head is bowed below the body when it flies.
Shorebirds frequent estuaries, small offshore islands, and coastal dunes. They must have food, protection from predators and roosting areas which are conveniently close to their feeding sites to be able to breed, generally at or above the high tide mark. Shorebird breeding and feeding areas are often in the same areas where people like to go hiking or picnic, swim or fish, so we must take care to not disturb these birds, each time these birds are disturbed and they take flight, they burn up energy that is needed for caretaking the young and for migrating to their winter grounds.
Walking the shores of the pacific northwest during the winter months is the best time to see shorebirds.