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Shorebirds

Shorebirds, like these dowitchers, flock to the mudflats and beaches of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

The fields, wetlands, beaches and mudflats of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge support a wide variety of shorebirds. Shorebirds include plovers, sandpipers, oystercatchers, phalaropes, and turnstones. Each group has distinctive physical adaptations that help them find food and help us identify them. Two areas of the refuge, Leadbetter Point and South Willapa Bay, are officially identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs). 

  • Important Bird Areas

    The Important Bird Areas Program is a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and biodiversity. IBAs are key sites for conservation and do one (or more) of three things: 1) hold significant numbers of one or more globally threatened species; 2) are one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of species restricted by range or habitat; and 3) have exceptionally large numbers of migratory species or high concentrations of birds.

  • Black-bellied Plover

    Black-bellied plover 150x118

    This large plover is a common winter sight on the ocean beach.

    Discover more about black-bellied plovers...

  • Black Oystercatcher

    The large red bill offset by the glossy black body of the black osytercatcher is a stunning refuge sight/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    The shiny black feathers and bright red bill of the black oystercatcher is a rare sight at the refuge. Look for this mid-sized shorebird on rocky shores, docks and nearby jetties. Cape Disappointment State Park is an excellent place to find this rare bird. 

  • Black Turnstone

    Black turnstones use their bill to "turnover" stones, marine algae and other beach materials in search of food/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    Although, most often seen on coastal rocks, jetties or pillings, the black turnstone is occassionally found feeding along refuge beaches. Look for it's behavior of turning over rocks, marine algae or other beach materials as it searches for food.

    Find out more about black turnstones...

  • Dunlin

    Dunlin have long, slightly downcurved black bills/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    Large flocks of dunlin winter at the refuge. They are one of the largest of the "peeps". (Many bird watchers affectionately call small, similar looking shorebirds that feed together "peeps").

    Learn more about the natural history of the dunlin...

  • Greater Yellowlegs

    Greater yellowlegs have a long slender bill that appears slightly upturned/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    Yellowlegs are wading shorebirds which actively pursue their prey. Greater yellowlegs have a longer bill than the lesser yellowlegs and it appears slightly upturned. Search refuge mudflats and shallow waters for this bird with the bright yellow legs.

    Discover about greater yellowlegs...

  • Killdeer

    Killdeer have two black breast bands/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    The most well-known of the plovers, killdeer are frequently seen in fields and habitats far from water. They have even been known to nest on roofs of city buildings. The killdeer has two dark bands on its upper breast.

    Uncover more about killdeer...

  • Least Sandpiper

    Least sandpipers are the smallest of the peeps and have yellow legs/Photo Courtesy of John Gavin

    This dainty shorebird is one of the smallest at the refuge. Although it can look similar to other wintering shorebirds, look for its relative size and its yellow legs.

    Discover more about this dainty shorebird...

  • Long-billed Dowitcher

    The long-billed dowitcher has a rich cinamon color during the breeding season/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    These mid-sized shorebirds resemble a sewing machine as they move their bills up and down in the sand or mud looking for food. The long-billed and short-billed dowitchers can be hard to distinguish from each other. Most are identified by their flight calls. Of the two, short-billed dowitchers are slightly more common in the refuge.

    Learn more...

  • Marbled Godwit

    The marbled godwit has a long, bi-colored bill/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    The long, bi-colored bill of the marbled godwit is one way to identify it in a crowd. marbled godwits use their bill to probe the sand and mud for insects and crustaceans.

    Uncover more about the interesting life of the marbled godwit...

  • Sanderling

    Sanderling 150x118

    Large flocks of these small sand-colored shorebirds gather on the coast during winter months.

    Find out more about sanderlings...

  • Spotted Sandpiper

    Spotted sandpiper 150x118

    Spotted sandpipers nest at the refuge.

    Discover more about this spotted bird...

  • Red Knot

    Red knots stop in Willapa Bay during spring and fall migration/Photo Courtesy of Len Blumin

    Some individual red knots are long distant migrants and can travel up to 9,000 mi (km) each way between breeding and wintering areas. Red knots travel through Willapa Bay in spring and fall, stopping to fuel up on the bounty of the beaches and mudflats.

    Learn more about redknots...

  • Red-necked Phalarope

    The red-necked phalarope has bold colors and a slender bill/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    These unusual birds winter in small flocks on the open ocean. They are seen occasionally in the refuge during spring and fall migration. These birds feed by swimming rapidly in small circles to create a current to bring things to the surface and plucking edible items with their slender bills. Look for phalaropes on wetland pools and flooded fields. They are occasionally found on the ocean beach. Females are more brightly colored than the males.

  • Ruddy Turnstone

    Ruddy turnstones use their bill to turn over beach material in search of things to eat/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    Similar to the black turnstone, the ruddy has bright reddish coloring and orange legs. Ruddy turnstones are a common, though not abundant, sight on the ocean beaches and mudflats during migration.

    Discover more about ruddy turnstones...

  • Short-billed Dowitcher

    The short-billed dowitcher looks very similar to the long-billed dowitcher, both can be found at the refuge/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    These mid-sized shorebirds resemble a sewing machine as they move their bills up and down in the sand or mud looking for food. The long-billed and short-billed dowitchers can be hard to distinguish from each other. Most are identified by their flight calls. Of the two, short-billed dowitchers are slightly more common in the refuge.

    Uncover more...

  • Western Sandpiper

    Western sandpiper 150x118

    This small peep flocks by the thousands to the refuge in winter.

    Discover more about the western sandpiper...

  • Western Snowy Plover

    Adult western snowy plovers have characteristic black marks on their head and shoulders/USFWS Photo

    The refuge hosts the most northern breeding population of the threatened western snowy plover.

    Explore the habits and habitats of this plover in peril...

  • Wilson's Phalarope

    Wilson's phalaropes are rare fall visitors to the refuge/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    These birds feed by twirling in small circles on the water’s surface and plucking edible items with their slender bills. Look for phalaropes on wetland pools and flooded fields during fall migration. 

  • Wilson's Snipe

    The common snipe is a secretive wetland bird/Photo Courtesy of Dr. Madeline Kalbach

    Rarely seen, the common snipe spend most of its life foraging in tall grasses. Look for this secretive and mostly solitary bird near wetland edges throughout the refuge.

    Check out more...

Page Photo Credits — Dowitchers - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Black oystercatcher - © Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Black turnstone - © Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Wilson's snipe - © Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Dunlin - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Greater yellowlegs - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Killdeer - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Least sandpiper - ©John Gavin, Long-billed dowitcher - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Marbled godwit - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Winter plumage red knot - ©Len Blumin, Ruddy turnstone - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Short-billed dowitcher - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Red-necked phalarope - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Western snowy plover - USFWS, Wilson's phalarope - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Black-bellied plover - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Sanderling - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Spotted sandpiper - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Western sandpiper - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach
Last Updated: Apr 11, 2014
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