Bay Journal

Shore Birds!

  • By Kathleen Gaskell on May 01, 2008
  • Comments are closed for this article.
 (Donna Dewhurst / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)  (Alan D. Wilson / www.naturespicsonline.com)  (Donna Dewhurst / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)  (Donna Dewhurst / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

On this page are pictures of five shore birds associated with the Mid-Atlantic: American Oystercatcher, Common Tern, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpaper and Semipalmated Plover. Can you match the bird with its image? If you need some help, there are descriptions of all of these birds below.

American Oystercatcher

Common Tern

Greater Yellowlegs

Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

1. This bird is a common summer resident in the Chesapeake, where it can be observed hovering just before it dives for fish. This white bird with a black-capped head and black wing tips is sometimes called a sea swallow because of its forked tail. These birds nest in colonies on Chesapeake islands, They are very territorial: Should a young chick wander away from its nest onto another adult's territory, that adult may attack the chick-unless the chick shows signs of submission. Then, the adult will not only not attack the chick, but may even brood the intruding youngster for a few seconds. This behavior is best observed from a long distance using binoculars, though. The parents in the nesting colony will unite and attack any creature they think is a predator, including humans, leaving the eggs/chicks exposed. The population of these birds is already decreasing, and if their nesting is disrupted too many times by intruders, the breeding success of the entire colony is threatened that year, making this bird even less "common."

2. As its name suggests, this bird is the smallest shore bird in North America, where it is sometimes known as a "peep." It is found in the Bay's tidal wetlands and mud flats in the spring and fall. It is brown with a streaked breast, yellowish green legs and a black beak, which it uses to poke "sand" in search of crustaceans, worms and molluscs. This bird is barely bothered by the presence of humans and will only fly off when they are almost about to be stepped on. Once the eggs are laid, the father starts to take over the incubation more and more, and after they are hatched, he is the parent mostly responsible for their care.

3. This bird is mostly seen in spring and fall in the tidal flats of the Chesapeake's estuarine rivers and salt marshes, where it runs along the water's edge, then suddenly stops to raise its head. It has a brown head and body with white underparts. The black band around its breast turns dullish brown in winter. It has an orange beak with a black tip that it uses to snatch crustaceans, molluscs and insects on the surface.

4. This bird's name is based on its favorite food, molluscs and clams. (It also eats worms.) In one year, a single bird can eat more than 100 pounds of mussel meat. It has a long, stout, reddish orange bill that helps it reach its prey buried deep in the sand. Once its prey is found, the bird uses its bladelike bill to pry open the shellfish and cut the adducter muscle that the animal uses to keep its shell shut. The parents must teach the young this technique and some biologists think that this is the reason that the bird has only two or three young a year. The bird is found spring through fall on the sand flats of the lower Bay, where it breeds in Tangier Sound. It has a black head, dark brown back and white underparts.

5. This bird is found in the tidal wetlands and mud flats of the Bay in the spring and fall. It has a black and gray checked upper body and a white rump. The bird's long "yellow legs" allow it to wade out in the water up to its belly in to get food. It swishes its slightly upturned beak back and forth in the water. This stirs up the bottom and exposes the small fish, insects, snails, worms and tadpoles that this bird eats by skimming the surface.

Answers

From the Descriptions:

1. Common tern 2. Least Sandpiper 3. Semipalmated Plover 4. American oystercatcher 5. Greater Yellowlegs

From the Photos:

A. Semipalmated Plover B. American Oystercatcher C. Greater Yellowlegs D. Least Sandpiper E. Common Tern

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About Kathleen Gaskell

Kathleen A. Gaskell, the layout & design editor for the Bay Journal, has been involved with several environmental programs for children.

Read more articles by Kathleen Gaskell

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