Let's learn about the family Charadriiadae, which includes some of the shorebirds. They are lapwings, plovers, turnstones and killdeer. Actually, the northern lapwing is an Eurasian species, of the Vanellus family. My Audubon water bird guide of 1951 included the lapwing in the Charadriidae family. Because it is such a rare sighting and has been seen in the Buffalo area, I want to include it in this article. I hope you will forgive me.
Shorebirds are most commonly seen birds in the spring and late summer. At this time, they are migrating south from the Arctic. As they migrate, you might be lucky to spot them along mudflats, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. However, identification can be tough, because they're in between summer and winter plumages right now. To add to the difficulties, the young are in their juvenile plumage and might be molting.
All of these birds breed in the Arctic except two. Take some time to look over the list again. I bet you can figure out which one breeds in our area. Yes! It's the killdeer. The other one that breeds here is the piping plover.
The nest of the ruddy turnstone is usually on the open tundra.
Photo by David L. Cooney Jr.
As a rule of thumb, shorebirds dart across the ground, stop suddenly and then resume running. Identifying them can be very challenging, because of their subtle differences in markings. The black-bellied and American golden plovers are black from the neck to the tail. The piping and semipalmated plovers have black rings around their necks and white bellies.
Want to learn more about the American golden plover? It was a plucky survivor when hunters almost made it extinct. In the spring, it travels through the central United States, taking advantage of the plowed fields and short prairie grass for food. It likes a whole lot of insects. However, add other small animals, weed seeds and grain to the mix.
Why are we seeing them now, this late in the season? Actually, the Buffalo Ornithological Society lists the black-bellied plover as being here sometimes until early December. Then it heads to the Atlantic coast, where it joins other late migrating shore birds.
The black-bellied plover. This, the biggest of the plovers in the northeast, never travels in huge flocks, as does the golden plover. The semipalmated plover is quite common around here.
The ruddy turnstone, a stocky bird, waddles while looking for mollusks, crustacean and insects. When it's in the Arctic, it gorges itself on berries. Stealing horseshoe-crab eggs is also common for it and it likes to eat tern eggs as well. In migration, it either flies in large flocks of just other turnstones, or it mixes with black-bellied plovers. This bullish bird doesn't act like a shore bird, when it perches to get a better view of the shore.
The rare lapwing is dark above and on its breast and white on its belly. What is very distinctive is its wispy crest. It especially likes plowed farm fields, fallow land and cow pastures. Its diet is composed of a whole lot of insects. However, add other small animals, weed seeds, and grain to the mix.
This bird reminds me of retired human parents whose kids leave the nest. How so? It gathers with a whole lot of other lapwings and heads for the mud flats, marshes, flooded fields and other favorite haunts. That's what humans do after their kids fledge. They visit the old haunts. I love that analogy.
Do you eat plover's eggs? I've never heard of this gourmet delight. Not for me, thank you.
Many cudos need to be given to the Buffalo Ornithological Society, whose members report their sightings to Genesee Birds regularly.