Natural History Notes on the Birds

Charadriformes I

Plovers, Shorebirds, Phalaropes

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About the categories

Name

Common name

Food

The main food category.

Feeding Techniques

How it acquires its food.

Habitat

What kind of area does the bird live?

Plumage

Is there similarity between the male and the female, between winter and spring, young and adult, or are there variations in the plumage amongst the species.

Distribution

Approximately where it is found in the United States.

Breeding

Unique aspects on how the species breeds.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Special notes on the status or natural history of this bird.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Selections from the Life Histories of North American Birds, edited by A. C. Bent.

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Name

Black-bellied Plover
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the shoreline,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. seasonal plumage very different

Distribution

Found along both coasts

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: In the interior they fed, around the shores of the larger lakes and on open flats, on various forms of aquatic life. They also resort to some extent to meadows and upland pastures, where the grass is short, and to plowed fields; here they do some good by devouring grasshoppers, locusts, cutworms, grubs, beetles, and earthworms. They also eat some seeds and berries. Mr. Forbush (1912) says that Prof. Samuel Aughey found the stomachs of two of these birds "crammed with the destructive Rocky Mountain locust."

Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) mentions a bird taken in California which had in its stomach "14 small snails, 1 small bivale mollusk, and parts of 2 or more small crabs." I once watched a bird in Florida, which fed for some time on the broken remains of a dead crab.

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Pacific Golden Plover
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the shoreline,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Agricultural areas, wetlands; spends the winter in Hawaii

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , seasonal plumages very different

Distribution

Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Edward H. Forbush (1912) tells of two men who killed plover enough to fill a tip car two-thirds full in one day, during a big storm on Nantucket in the forties. Again he speaks of a great flight which occurred there on August 29, 1863, "when golden plover and Eskimo curlew landed on the island in such numbers as to almost darken the sun. Between seven and eight thousand of these birds were killed on the island and on Tuckernuck." He says that from 1860 on the species began to decrease, due to the demand created by the failing supply of passenger pigeons, and that in 1890 alone two Boston firms received from the West 40 barrels closely packed with curlew and plover, with 25 dozen curlew and 60 dozen plover to the barrel. 

By the end of the last century this species had about reached its lowest ebb; it had become scarce where it once abounded; no more big flights occurred; and in many places it was rarely seen. But protective measures came in time to save it from extermination; the stopping of the sale of game and the removal of this species from the game-bird list were badly needed. Since the last move was made the species has shown some signs of recovery. Edwin Beaupre (1917) says that "after an absence of almost 15 years, the golden plover has apparently resumed its migratory visits to eastern Ontario." Prof. William Rowan (1923) says: 

This year has been an exceptional golden-plover year. At the place referred to above, somewhere over a thousand birds were seen on the 20th of May alone, in moving flocks varying in number from 30 individuals to several hundreds. This was evidently not unique; for about the same time I got a report from quite another part of the Province that this species was unusually abundant, while from yet another quarter I got a very good description of the bird in a letter with a request that I name it for the inquirer, a careful bird observer. Her comment was that she had never seen the species before, but that it was, at the time of writing, present on the plowed fields in enormous numbers.

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Name

Semipalmated Plover
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the shoreline,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , slight variation in seasonal plumages

Distribution

Throughout the United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Field marks: The semipalmated plover is easily distinguished in the field from the killdeer by its smaller size, its single neck ring, and by the absence of the rufous color on the rump. Its darker colors distinguish it from the piping plover. From the sandpipers, even at a distance on the sand, it is distinguished most readily by its plover behavior, as already described. In flying they show a faint white line on the wings which contrasts with the general brown of the upper parts. The neck ring is noticeable both in the flying and walking bird, and the orange yellow of the tarsi and base of the bill can be made out with glasses. In the young, which arrive on the Massachusetts coast about a month behind their elders in the autumn migration, the ring is gray instead of glossy black, and the tarsi are pale yellow. It may be distinguished from the Wilson's plover by the fact that that bird has a much longer bill, wholly black.

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Name

Wilson's Plover

Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the shoreline,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Barrier islands, sandy beaches, mud flats

Plumage

Male and female are slightly different

Distribution

Southeastern coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Audubon (1840) describes the behavior of this plover very well, as follows:

The flight of this species, is rapid, elegant, and protracted. While traveling from one sand beach or island to another, they fly low over the land or water, emitting a fine, clear, soft note. Now and then, when after the breeding season they form into flocks of 20 or 30, they perform various evolutions in the air, cutting backward and forward, as if inspecting the spot on which they wish to alight, and then suddenly descend, sometimes on the sea beach and sometimes on the more elevated sands at a little distance from it. They do not run so nimbly as the piping plovers nor are they nearly so shy. I have in fact frequently walked up so as to be within 10 yards or so of them. They seldom mix with other species, and they show a decided preference to solitary uninhabited spots.

Name

Snowy Plover

Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the ground,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Found primarily on beaches.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , non-breeding plumage more drab than breeding plumage

Distribution

Primarily along the west coast and southeast coast

Breeding

Nests in scrape on the beach. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Snowy plover feed mainly on the sandy beaches, foraging on the wet sand and at the surf line, where they are expert at dodging the incoming waves and very lively, running up and down the beach as the waves advance or recede. Here they often forage in compact bunches, picking up small crustaceans, marine worms, or other minute marine organisms. Inland they feed along the muddy or alkaline shores of ponds or lakes, on various insects, such as beetles or flies. Dr. A. K. Fisher (1893) says: 

This handsome little plover was observed by the writer on the shores of Owens Lake, near Keeler, May 30 to June 4, where it was common in small flocks of 5 or 10 on the alkaline flats which border the lake. Like most other birds in the vicinity, it fed extensively, if not exclusively, on a species of small fly (Ephydra hians Say), which was found in immense masses near the edge of the lake. Many of these swarms of flies were four or five layers deep and covered an area of 15 or 20 square feet. Some idea can be formed of the inexhaustible supply of food which this insect furnishes for birds when it is known that colonies of equal size occurred at close intervals in suitable localities all around the lake, which has a shore line of between 40 and 50 miles.

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Name

Mountain Plover
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the ground, stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Upland dry fields

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Sparse distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: W. C. Bradbury (1918) has given us a very good acccount of the nesting habits of the mountain plover in Colorado. Of the nesting site and nest he says: 

The ground is an open, rolling prairie, above the line of irrigation, and is devoted to cattle range. It is several miles from natural surface water and streams, and is covered with short-cropped buffalo or gramma grass, 2 or 3 inches high, with frequent bunches of dwarfed prickly pear, and an occasional cluster of stunted shrub or weed, rarely more than a foot in height. With the six sets secured, in no instance had the parent bird taken advantage of the slight protection offered from sight or the elements by the nearby cactus, shrubs or uneven spots of ground. In each case, she had avoided such shelter, locating in the open, generally between the small grass hummocks and not on or in them; there was no evidence of the parent birds having given more thought to nest preparation or concealment, than does any other plover. In two of the sets the eggs were all individually embedded in the baked earth to a depth of one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch, evidently having settled when the surface of the ground was reduced to soft mud by rain-water collecting in the slight depressions. As the ground dried up the eggs were fixed in a perfect mould or matrix, from which they could not roll. In fact they could hardly be disturbed at all by the sitting birds. The only nesting material was a small quantity of fine, dry rootlets and "crowns" of gramma grass, the eggs in some instances being slightly embedded in this lining. As it is also present in all other depressions on the prairie it is highly probable that here as elsewhere it was deposited about the eggs by the wind and not through the agency of the birds themselves.The protective coloration of the nest and eggs, as well as of the rear view of the birds themselves, even when in motion, is unsurpassed. In no instance, except one hereinafter noted, was the bird seen to leave the nest, nor was any nest found except in the immediate vicinity of moving birds.

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Name

Killdeer
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the ground,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Found in many different habitats.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Scientific name, vociferous, refers to its habit of spreading alarm often.

Notes from A.C. Bent

It may be said of the killdeer that it is probably the most widely distributed and best known of all our shore birds. Unlike most of the group, it is not confined to the borders of lakes and of the sea but is found in meadows, pastures, and dry uplands often many miles from water. Unlike, also, the majority of our shore birds, its sojourn here is not limited to the migration periods, for it breeds and winters throughout a large portion of the United States. It is not of a retiring disposition, and it often makes its presence known by loud calls and cries, to which it owes both its common and scientific names: killdeer and vociferus. Its strikingly marked and handsome plumage makes it very conspicuous when it is in motion, as is nearly always the case. In all these respects it resembles the European lapwing, a resemblance to which both Wilson and Audubon called attention. Wilson (1832) says that "this restless and noisy bird is known to almost every inhabitant of the United States."

During the latter part of the last. century and early in this persecution by shooting brought down the numbers of the killdeer so that in certain parts of the country where it formerly bred it became extremely rare. Thus, Forbush (1925) says:

The killdeer was once a common breeding bird in New England. Early in the present century it became so reduced in numbers that it was believed to have been practically exterminated as a breeding species. * * * Legislation protecting it perpetually has resulted in a gradual increase of the species which is now nesting locally but not uncommonly in the coastal region and river valleys of southern New England.

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Name

Black Oystercatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollucks, crustaceans, marine worms, bivalves

Feeding Techniques

Hunts for prey items along rocks right on the coast

Habitat

Rocky coasts

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Only along the Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: W. Leon Dawson (1909) writes:  

Left to themselves, the birds are no Quakers, and the antics of courtship are both noisy and amusing. A certain duet, especially, consists of a series of awkward bowings and bendings in which the neck is stretched to the utmost and arched over stiffly into a pose as grotesque as one of Cruikshank's drawings, the whole to an accompaniment of amorous clucks and wails.

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Name

American Oystercatcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Variety of worms, crabs, insects

Feeding Techniques

Probes the sand in addition to hunting for prey on the rocks

Habitat

Coastal waters

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Audubon (1840) says of the feeding habits of the oystercatcher: 

I have seen it probe the sand to the full length of its bill, knock off limpets from the rocks on the coast of Labrador, using its weapon sideways and insinuating it between the rock and the shell like a chisel, seize the bodies of gaping oysters on what are called in the Southern States and the Floridas "raccoon oyster beds," and at other times take up a "razor handle" or solen, and lash it against the sands until the shell was broken and the contents swallowed. Now and then they seem to suck the sea urchins, driving in the mouth, and introducing their bill by the aperture, without breaking the shell; again they are seen wading up to their bodies from one place to another, seizing on shrimps and other crustacen, and even swimming for a few yards, should this be necessary to enable them to remove from one bank to another without flying. Small crabs, fiddlers, and sea worms are also caught by it, the shells of which, in a broken state, I have found in its gizzard in greater or less quantity. Frequently, while on wet sea beaches, it pats the sand to force out the insects; and in one instance I saw an individual run from the water to the dry sand with a small flounder in its bill, which it afterwards devoured.

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Black-necked Stilt
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Feeds in small ponds

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Scattered throughout the US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

wabbly - wabble is a variation of the word wobble, which refers to uneven movements

Notes from A.C. Bent

Although I first met the black-necked stilt in the Florida Keys in 1903, it was not until I visited the irrigated regions of the San Joaquin Valley in California in 1914, that I saw this curious bird living in abundance and flourishing in most congenial surroundings. It was a pleasant change from the cool, damp air of the coast region to the clear, dry warmth of this highly cultivated valley. The naturally arid plains between the distant mountain ranges had been transformed by irrigation into fertile fields of alfalfa and wheat, vast areas had been flooded with water from the melting snows of the Sierras, forming grazing lands for herds of cattle and endless marshes, wet meadows, ponds and creeks, for various species of water birds. As W. Leon Dawson (1923) puts it:

The magic touch of water following its expected channels quickens an otherwise barren plain into a paradise of avian activities. Ducks of six or seven species frequent the deeper channels; coots and gallinules and pied-billed grebes crowd the sedgy margins of the ponds; herons, bitterns, ibises, and egrets, seven species of Herodiones, all told, occupy the reedy depths of the larger ponds or deploy over the grassy levels. Rails creak and titter, red wings clink, yellow-headed blackbirds gurgle, wrangle, and screech; while the marsh wrens, familiar spirits of the maze, sputter and chuckle over their quaint basketry. The tricolored blackbirds, also in great silent companies recruited from a hundred acres, charge into their nesting covert with a din of uncanny preoccupation. Over the open ponds black terns hover, and Forster terns flit with languid ease. The killdeer is not forgotten, nor the burrowing owl, whose home is in the higher knolls; but over all and above all and through all comes the clamor of the black-necked stilt and the American avocet.

Of all these birds, the stilts were the most conspicuous in the wet meadows about Los Banos, where they were always noisy and aggressive. I have never seen them so abundant elsewhere, though I have seen them in similar situations in Florida and Texas, on extensive wet meadows where shallow water fills the hollows between myriads of little muddy islets and tufts of grass. Here they can wade about and feed in the water or build their nests on the hummocks above high-water mark, and here their young can hide successfully among the grassy tufts.

Behavior: The flight of the stilt is steady and direct, but not particularly swift; the bill is held straight out in front and the legs are extended backwards, giving the bird a long, slim appearance. Over their eggs or young, stilts sometimes hover on steadily heating wings with dangling legs. In their excitement they sometimes climb up into the air and make startling dives.  

But stilts are essentially waders; for wading they are highly specialized, and here they show to best advantage. At times they seem a bit wabbly on their absurdly long and slender legs, notably when trembling with excitement over the invasion of their breeding grounds. But really they are expert in the use of these well-adapted limbs, and one can not help admiring the skillful and graceful way in which they wade about in water breast deep, as well as on dry land, in search of their insect prey. The legs are much bent at each step, the foot is carefully raised and gently but firmly planted again at each long stride. The legs are so long that when the bird is feeding on land it is necessary to bend the legs backward to enable the bill to reach the ground.

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Name

American Avocet
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Moves its long beak like a scyth over the surface of a pond or similar body of water.

Habitat

Wetland

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; develops orange head during breeding season

Distribution

Throughout most of the western US, scattered areas of the east

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Avocets are at all times tame and unsuspicious, very solicitous and aggressive on their breeding grounds, quiet and indifferent at other times, showing only mild curiosity. Their demonstrations of anxiety on their nesting grounds, particularly if they have young, are amusing and ludicrous. Utterly regardless of their own safety, they meet the intruder more than half way and stay with him till he leaves. W. Leon Dawson (1909) has described it very graphically, as follows: 

The mother bird had flushed at a hundred yards, but seeing our position she flew toward us and dropped into the water some 50 feet away. Here she lifted a black wing in simulation of maimed stiffness, and flopped and floundered away with the aid of the other one. Seeing that the ruse failed, she ventured nearer and repeated the experiment, lifting now one wing and now both in token of utter helplessness. After a while the male joined her, and we had the painful spectacle of a crippled family, whose members were uttering most doleful cries of distress, necessitated apparently by their numerous aches and breaks. Once, for experiment's sake, we followed, and the waders flopped along in manifest delight coaxing us up on shore and making off through the sagebrush with broken legs and useless wings. But we came back, finding it better to let the birds make the advances. The birds were driven to the very limit of frenzy, dancing, wing trailing, swaying, going through last convulsions and beginning over again without regard to logical sequence, all in an agony of effort to divert attention from those precious eggs. As time elapsed, however, the color of the play changed.

Finding that the appeal of cupidity was of no avail, the birds appeared to fall back upon the appeal to pity. Decoying was useless, that was plain; so they stood with upraised wings, quivering and moaning, in tenderest supplication. It was too much even for conscious rectitude and we withdrew abashed.

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Name

Willet
Lesson Plan

Food

Small mollusks, fish, crabs, aquatic insects, marine worms

Feeding Techniques

Uses its beak to hunt for prey - from land and from water

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Mainly in the western states, but increasing in the east

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

swale -

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: The eastern willet is decidedly a coastwise bird and it is seldom seen far from the coastal marshes, beaches, and islands. Its favorite nesting places are on sandy islands overgrown with grass, tall and thick enough to conceal its nest, or on dry uplands where similar conditions may be found in close proximity to marshes or the shore. In Nova Scotia I was too late to find nests, but Mr. Lewis (1920) writes: 

I have occasionally searched for the nests or the young of the willets, but without success until June 5, 1920, when I found a nest with four eggs of this species, in an open swale in an upland pasture, about a quarter of a mile from the nearest salt marsh or salt water, at Arcadia, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, on the western side of the Chetogue River. The nest was near the Junction of the River Road with Argyle Street, and was about 150 yards from each of those much-traveled highways, which were in full view from the nest site. Several cattle occupied the pasture at the time when the nest was found. The swale in which the nest was placed was of considerable extent and was of the kind preferred as a breeding place by Wilson's snipe; in fact, a pair of those birds were evidently nesting there. The willet's nest was a slight hollow in the damp ground, lined with a few dead rushes. It was surrounded by growing rushes, cinnamon fern, low blackberry bushes, and wild rose bushes, and was well concealed.

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Name

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily insects

Feeding Techniques

Uses its beak to hunt for prey - from land and from water

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , non-breeding plumage is less mottled than breeding plumage

Distribution

Throughout the United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The names, telltale and tattler, have long been applied to both of the yellow-legs, and deservedly so, for their noisy, talkative habits are their best known traits. They are always on the alert and ever vigilant to warn their less observant or more trusting companions by their loud, insistent cries of alarm that some danger is approaching. Every sportsman knows this trait and tries to avoid arousing this alarm when other, more desirable, game is likely to be frightened away. And many a yellow-legs has been shot by an angry gunner as a reward for his exasperating loquacity.

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Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily insects

Feeding Techniques

Uses its beak to hunt for prey - from land and from water

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , non-breeding plumage is less mottled than breeding plumage

Distribution

Throughout the United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: Incubation is shared by both sexes, but we have no information as to its duration. MacFarlane found a pair of yellowlegs with three recently hatched young "in a small watery swamp," where the young were able to conceal themselves in the short grass. Mr. Street (1923) says: 

Young were found for the first time on June 4. Both male and female at this time were highly excited, the female approaching within 10 feet of us. All the young had left the nest and had taken refuge in the shade of a log to escape the burning rays of the sun. No eggshells were found in the nest or near by. As we retired from the immediate locality the female flew down to the ground and softly "kipped" as if to rally the scattered young. On the succeeding day a nest was found which at 10 a. m. contained one young and two eggs. At 12.30 p.m. all the birds had hatched and had left the nest, being found quite a distance away. One bird was walking, readily indicating that the migration to the water must start within a few hours of the time that the young are out of the eggs.

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Name

Wandering Tattler
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily insects (see below)

Feeding Techniques

Hunts for prey in rocky coastal areas

Habitat

Rocky coastal shores

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - heavily barred during breeding season, grayer plumage for non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The usual feeding grounds of the wandering tattler are the rocky shores, where it searches for its food among the kelp covered rocks at the water's edge, following the receding waves and nimbly dodging the incoming breakers or making short flights to avoid the surf. If over-taken and drenched it flies to a rock, shakes the water from its plumage and soon resumes its feeding. B. J. Bretherton (1896) says that on Kodiak Island:

This species seemed to habitually frequent the sand or gravel beaches in preference to rocky localities, and had regular feeding grounds to which they resorted at certain stages of the tide, returning regularly each day at the same time. Their food consists largely of decapods together with small crabs, marine worms, and minute mollusks.

Its food seems to be mainly insects, but includes small crustaceans, minute mollusks, marine worms, and other small marine animals. The contents of six stomachs, reported on by Preble and McAtee (1923) consisted of "flies (Diptera), 46.1 per cent; caddis flies 30.6 per cent; amphipods, 16 per cent; mollusks, 3.6 per cent; and beetles 1.1 per cent."

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Name

Ruddy Turnstone
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Turns stones over to find food underneath.

Habitat

Rocky shore

Plumage

Breeding plumage brighter than non-breeding plumage; The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Both Atlantic and Pacific coasts

Breeding

Winters along both coasts

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Field marks: The turnstone is a conspicuous and well-marked bird, not likely to be mistaken for anything else. It is a stout, short legged bird with a short neck and a short, straight bill. In its brilliant spring plumage the white head, black throat, red legs, and rufous back are unique field marks. But the best field marks, most conspicuous in the nuptial plumage, but present in all plumages, are the five white stripes on the upper surface, which show very plainly as the bird flies away; these are a broad central stripe on the back, separated by a black patch on the rump from the white area in the tail, a narrow stripe on the outer edge of the scapulars and a band across the wing on the secondaries and primaries. Unfortunately for observers on the Pacific coast, the black turnstone has somewhat similar white stripes, but the pattern is a little different.

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Name

Black Turnstone
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Turns stones over to find food underneath.

Habitat

Rocky shore

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters along Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: Mr. Conover says, in his notes, that "both male and female take care of the young." He obtained some data which seems to show that the eggs hatch in from 21 to 22 days. A nest was found on May 31 with four fresh eggs; in the evening of June 21 this nest contained three young, already dry, and one pipped egg; the next morning the last egg had hatched. Another nest was found on May 31 with three eggs; the next day there were four eggs; at noon on June 22 the eggs had not hatched; but at 4 pm the next day the nest was empty and the young had disappeared from the vicinity. 

Mr. Brandt says in his notes: 

We enjoyed the pleasure of seeing the downy young for the first time on June 21, and were greatly interested in them, as they had not been described or figured. They are born from the egg 21 days after incubation begins, and the mottled chick, like other shore birds, leaves its nest at once. The downy young have a remarkably protective coloration, and, furthermore, are distinguishable from any of their relatives.

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Name

Surfbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily insects

Feeding Techniques

Hunts its prey as it walks around rocks where the waves meet the shore

Habitat

Rocky shore

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; non-breeding plumage less colorful than breeding

Distribution

Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Phalangoidea - A division of Arachnoidea, including the daddy longlegs or harvestman (Phalangium) and many similar kinds. They have long, slender, many-jointed legs; usually a rounded, segmented abdomen; and chelate jaws. They breathe by tracheæ. Called also Phalangides, Phalangidea, Phalangiida, and Opilionea.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: On its breeding grounds in summer the surf bird feeds almost entirely on insects, mainly flies and beetles. The analysis of the stomach contents of eight birds, taken in Alaska and examined by the Biological Survey, shows the following proportions: Diptera, 55.2 per cent; Coleoptera, 36 per cent; Lepidoptera, 3.8 per cent; Hymenoptera, 3.3 per cent; Phalangidea, 1 per cent; snails, 5 per cent; and seeds, 2 per cent. Mr. Dixon (1927) says of its feeding habits:

Three days later seven surf birds were found feeding in company at midday near this same spot. This time they were foraging near the top of a very steep talus slope that lay fair to the sun. Only a few scant flowers grew amid the rocks, but insects were numerous and active. One surf bird which, when later collected, proved to be a male stood guard while the others fed. The slightest movement on my part was sufficient to cause a warning note to be given by this sentinel. When feeding, these birds ran hurriedly over the rocks, traveling as fast or faster than a man could walk. When an insect was sighted the pursuing surf bird would stretch out its neck as far and as straight as possible. Then moving stealthily forward the bird would make a final thrust and secure the insect in its bill, much in the same manner that a turkey stalks a grasshopper. 

At other seasons the surf bird feeds along the water line on ocean beaches, preferring the rocky or stony shores, or reefs exposed at low tide; here it extracts the soft parts of barnacles, mussels, or other crustaceans and small mollusks, or picks up other minute forms of marine life. It also feeds to some extent at the surf line on sandy beaches or on mud flats, where it picks up similar food from the surface without probing for it. At such times the birds are quite pugnacious unless sufficiently scattered.

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Long-billed Dowitcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily insects

Feeding Techniques

Uses its beak to hunt for prey - from land and from water

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. breeding plumagemore colorful than non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Doctor Nelson (1887) writes:  

These are very demonstrative birds in their love-making, and the last of May and first of June their loud cries are heard everywhere about their haunts, especially in morning and evening. Two or three males start in pursuit of a female and away they go twisting and turning, here and there, over marsh and stream, with marvelous swiftness and dexterity. At short intervals a male checks his flight for a moment to utter a strident poet a iceet; wee-too, wee-too; then on he goes full tilt again. After they have mated, or when a solitary male pays his devotions, they rise 15 or 20 yards from the ground, where, hovering upon quivering wings, the bird pours forth a lisping but energetic and frequently musical song, which can he very imperfectly expressed by the syllables peet-peet; pee-ter-wee-too; wee-too; pee-ter-wee-too; pee-ter-wee-too; wee-too; wee-too. This is the complete song but frequently only fragments are sung, as when the bird is in pursuit of the female.

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Name

Whimbrel
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking

Habitat

Mudflats, shoreline, wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters primarily along both coasts

Breeding

Breeds in north Canada

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: The large gulls and skuas, though often successfully driven off when approaching singly, are often successful in destroying the eggs or young where present in numbers and the enormous increase in the numbers of the great skua in the Shetlands has proved very detrimental to this species. In Iceland the Arctic fox is also an enemy to be counted with and the crow tribe (raven and hooded crow) are always ready to take advantage of any chance opportunity.

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Name

Short-billed Dowitcher
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Probing in the mud

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters along both coasts

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Dowitchers are the gentlest and most unsuspicious of shore birds, which has made them easy prey for the avaricious gunner. Their flight is swift and steady, often protracted and sometimes at a great elevation, when looking for feeding places. They usually fly in compact flocks by themselves, sometimes performing interesting evolutions high in the air. They often fly, however, in flocks with other small waders, but the dowitchers are generally bunched together in the flock; I once shot four dowitchers out of a mixed flock without hitting any of the smaller birds. When a flock of dowitchers alights the birds are closely bunched, but they soon scatter out and begin to feed. If a flock is shot into, the sympathetic and confiding birds return again and again to their fallen companions until only a pitiful remnant is left to finally escape. Such slaughter of the innocents well-nigh exterminated this gentle species; but, now that it is protected, it is beginning to increase again.

Although all shore birds can swim, the dowitcher seems to be especially adept at it Doctor Coues (1874) writes:

Being partly web-footed, this snipe swims tolerably well for a little distance in an emergency, as when it may get for a moment beyond its depth in wading about, or when it may fail, broken-winged, on the water. On such an occasion as this last, I have seen one swim bravely for 20 or 30 yards, with a curious bobbing motion of the bead and corresponding jerking of the tail, to a hiding place in the rank grass across the pool. When thus hidden they keep perfectly still, and may be picked up without resistance, except a weak flutter, and perhaps a low, pleading cry for pity on their pain and helplessness. When feeding at their ease, in consciousness of peace and security, few birds are of more pleasing appearance. Their movements are graceful and their attitudes often beautifully statuesque.

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Name

Sanderling
Lesson Plan

Food

Small crustaceans, small mollusks, marine worms, insects

Feeding Techniques

Probes sand as waves recede

Habitat

Sandy beaches

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found along both coasts

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The same observer tells us all we know about the courtship of the sanderling, as follows:

The pairing began toward the middle of June. The peculiar pairing flight of the male was to be seen and heard when the weather was fine, and especially in the evening. Uttering a snarling or slight neighing sound, he mounts to a height of some two meters from the surface of the ground on strongly whirring wings, to continue at this height his flight for a short distance, most frequently in a straight line, but sometimes in small circles.

When excited he frequently sits on the top of a solitary large stone, his dorsal feathers blown out, his tall spread, and his wings half let down, producing his curious subdued pairing tones. He, however, soon returns to the female, which always keeps mute, and then he tries by slow, affected, almost creeping movements to induce her to pairing, until at last the act of pairing takes place; when effected, both birds rush away in rapid flight, to return soon after to the nesting place. I have also observed males in pairing flight without being able to discover any female in the neighborhood, and then, of course, without realizing the pairing as completing act. The male is in the pairing time very quarrelsome, and does not permit any strange bird to intrude on the selected domain. He seems to be meet envious against birds of his own kin.

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Marbled Godwit
Lesson Plan

Food

Crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, insects

Feeding Techniques

Probes with its large beak

Habitat

Wetlands and coastal shore

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - slight difference between breeding and non-breeding

Distribution

Along Pacific and Atlantic coastal areas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Doctor Roberts (1919) says of the feeding habits of the marbled godwit:  

With their long, up-curved bills they probe the shallow water of sloughs and lake shores for aquatic insects and mollusks and also spend much of their time on meadows and low-lying prairies, where they devour grasshoppers and other insects of many kinds. These big birds, when they were as abundant as they once were, must have been an important factor in keeping in check the dangerous insect hordes of our State. But they, with others of their kind, are gone and man is left to fight conditions as he must with agencies of his own devising, less efficient, perhaps, than those provided by nature.

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Name

Red Knot
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with its beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. Strong difference between breeding and non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Found along both Atlanta and Pacific coasts

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The knots fly swiftly in compact flocks, twisting and turning in unison like the smaller sandpipers, for which they might easily be mistaken at a distance. On the ground they are rather deliberate in their movements, generally grouped in compact bunches and all moving along together; they are less likely to scatter over their feeding grounds than other waders. When resting on the high beaches between tides they stand quietly in close groups, all facing the wind; their grey plumage renders them quite inconspicuous at such times. F. M. Allen tells me that he has seen half a dozen of them hopping about on one leg in shallow water; this may be a sort of game, frequently indulged in by many small waders.

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Western Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; breeding and non-breeding plumage differ

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: S. F. Rathbun has sent me the following notes on the habits of the western sandpiper on the coast of Washington:  

This is one of the small sandpipers of this region that will be found common at the time of the migration periods along the ocean beaches and on the tide flats. It occurs in flocks of varying sizes, some of which contain an exceedingly large number of birds. At times if care is used one can approach a flock quite closely, often within 15 or 20 feet, and it is of interest to watch the actions of the individuals. They are active birds, being constantly on the move as they feed, and while thus engaged keep up a continual conversation, as it were, this being of the nature of a soft, roiling whistle which is pleasant to hear. These sandpipers seem to prefer to feed at or near the waters edge, particularly where there is an ebb and flow, being very active in following up the water as it recedes and equally so in avoiding its incoming, but always at the very edge as it were. They secure their food by a skimming like movement of the bill over the surface of the mud that has just been covered by the water, and as the birds advance or retreat in following the flow it is quite amusing to observe the seeming pains taken to avoid coming into contact with it. And still at times individuals may be seen in some of the very shallow spots. It is a fine sight to see a flock of these sandpiper suddenly take alarm as they are feeding; all quickly spring into the air as if moved by the same impulse at exactly the same moment, and then form a compact body that will execute a variety of evolutions in perfect harmony. The flock will rise and fail and wheel and turn, and at times may split into several smaller ones, these to again reunite, and should one happen to stand where the light falls directly on the birds the white of their underparts as they turn is very striking. These actions may be repeated a number of times, and then without warning the flock of birds will all alight and quickly scatter in search of food. Scenes like this are what give an enlightenment to the waste places and fortunately, under the protection now afforded the species, are likely to continue to be enacted in the future. But large as the numbers of the western sandpiper still appear to be, they are not comparable to those of fifteen or twenty years ago, and the cause of this decrease in their numbers is the same old story. It seems hardly possible that a bird so small could have been regarded as game and its hunting come under the name of sport, but such was the case and it brought about the logical result. One may be thankful, however, that this no longer can be done, and hope that the lapse of time may bring about somewhat of an increase in the number of these birds.

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Name

Least Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. Slight variation in breeding and non-breeding plumages

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: These birds appear to be feeding on small crustaceans and worms on the beaches and on insects and their larvae in the marshes. It is to be hoped that with the increase of the birds the pest of green-head flies and of mosquitoes in the salt marshes may diminish. E. A. Preble (1923) examined two stomachs from birds shot in the Pribilof Islands and found that one of them contained amphipods exclusively, the other the following items: "23 seeds of bottle brush (Hippuris vulgaris), 50 per cent; bits of hydroid stems, 40 per cent; and chitin from the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), 10 per cent." A. H. Howell (1924) reports as follows: "Of the 19 stomachs of this bird collected in Alabama, practically all contained larvae or pupae of small flies (Chironomidae) in a few bits of aquatic beetles were found." Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1916) found in the stomach of a bird taken in Porto Rico "the heads of more than 100 minute fly larvae (75 per cent) and fragments of small beetles (Hetercerus sp.) (25 per cent)."

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Name

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - slight variation between breeding and non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Migrates through the Eastern United States

Breeding

Breeds in the Canadian tundra

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Game: The fact that so many of these birds could be easily killed at one shot, and the fact that they were so fat and palatable broiled or cooked in a pie, made them always much sought after by the pot hunter. As large shore birds grew scarcer and it became more and more difficult for the gunner to fill his bag with them, "peep" shooting, even by sportsmen, was in vogue. The Federal law has now wisely removed this species from the list of game birds and prevented its extinction. The bird has responded to this protection in a marked degree, and flocks of 500 or more are common and pleasing sights on our beaches where one-tenth of this number was once rare.

The shooting of semipalmated sandpipers occurred largely on the beaches. The gunner dug a hole in the sand, banked it up, and put brush and driftwood, often reinfoxced with seaweed, on the ramparts. At a convenient distance decoys of wood or tin were placed, arranged like a flock of birds with their heads pointing to the wind. Occasionally large clamshells were stuck in the sand, simulating very well a flock of peep. Much depended on the skill of the gunner in calling down the birds as they flew along, by cunningly imitating their notes and by his care in keeping concealed and motionless until the moment that he delivered his fire. To bring down a score of birds from a closely packed flock required but little skill, where, to pick off a single peep, flying erratically and swiftly by, called for well-seasoned judgment; but the chances for these birds were small indeed when the beaches were lined with inviting decoys and concealed whistling gunners.

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Name

Pectoral Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - slight variation between breeding and non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Primarily eastern states but also Pacific Coast during migration

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: S. A. Buturlin (1907) gives a somewhat different account of it, as observed by him in Siberia, as follows: 

One would every now and then stretch both wings right over its back, and afterwards commence a grotesque sort of dance, hopping alternately on each leg; another would inflate its gular pouch and run about, crouching down to the ground, or would fly up to about a hundred feet in the air, then inflate its pouch and descend slowly and obliquely to the ground on extended wings. All these performances were accompanied by a strange hollow sound, not very loud when near, but audible at some distance, even as far as 500 yards. These notes are very difficult to locate, and vary according to the distance. When near they are tremulous booming sounds something like the notes of a frog, and end in clear sounds like those caused by the bursting of water bubbles in a copper vessel.

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Name

Baird's Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - slight variation with breeding and non-breeding

Distribution

Midwest

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Alexander Wetmore (1886-1978) was an ornithologist who was an expert on the birds and bird fossils of Central and South America. He named many species of fossil birds, including Plegadornis, 1962 (now Angelinornis). He was put in charge of the National Museum (the Smithsonian), the National Gallery of Art, and the National Zoo in 1925. He collected a lot of birds (which were stuffed for the Smithsonian's collection) and fossils. In addition to his field work and administrative duties, he was famous for being extremely formal. While in the rainforests collecting specimens, he would always wear a tie, and he insisted that the tents, chairs and tables were always arranged perfectly in a particular linear fashion. The Cretaceous Period fossil bird Alexornis (meaning "Alex's bird") was named by Pierce Brodkorb in 1976 in honor of Wetmore.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Spring: This sandpiper belongs to that class of birds which Abel Chapman (1924) so aptly terms "globe spanners," for on its migrations it traverses the whole length of both American continents twice a year. From its wintering grounds in Patagonia it must start north even earlier than the preceding species (White-rumped Sandpiper) or else it must travel faster. Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1926) observed it migrating past Buenos Aires on March 5 in company with white-rumped sandpipers, and it has been known to reach Texas early in March. From there its course seems to be northward between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. A. G. Lawrence tells me that it passes through Manitoba between April 28 and May 29; and J. A. Munro gives me, as his spring dates for southern British Columbia, April 30 to May 10. Prof. William Rowan (Mss.) calls it extremely abundant in Alberta about the middle of May and usually gone by the 24th. It is very rare east of the Mississippi in the spring. E. A. Preble (1908) saw large flocks foraging on floating ice at Lake Athabaska on May 25. Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1900) records it at the Kowak River, Alaska, on May 20. Joseph Dixon (1917) says: 

On May 31, 1914, at Grimn Point, Arctic Alaska, the first pair of Baird sandpipers for the season were noted feeding along the rim of a frozen tundra pond. The weather had turned bitterly cold during the previous night, and as a result the newly formed ice on the ponds was thick enough to support a man. Strictly speaking, there was no night at this date, for the two months of continuous daylight had already begun; so in a short time the sandpipers were hustling about picking up the mosquito and other pupae which were being washed out by a newly-born stream that gurgled under the snow and ice on its way down to the frozen lagoon.

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Name

Dunlin
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - strong variation between breeding and non-breeding

Distribution

Throughout most of the country

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: Incubation is shared by both sexes and requires 22 days. Macgillivray (1852) says of the young:  

Like those of the golden plover and lapwing, they leave the nest immediately after exclusion from the egg, run about, and when alarmed conceal themselves by sitting close to the ground and remaining motionless. If at this period a person approaches their retreat, the male especially, but frequently the female also, flies up to meet the intruder and uses the same artifices for deceiving him as many other birds of this family. After they are able to shift for themselves the young remain several weeks on the moors with their parents, both collecting into small flocks, which are often intermingled with those of the golden plover, and often in the evenings uniting into larger. They rest at night on the smoother parts of the heath, and both species, when resting by day, either stand or lie on the ground. When one advances within a hundred yards of such a flock it is pleasant to see them stretch up their wings, as if preparing for flight, utter a few low notes, and immediately stand on the alert or run a short way; but at this season they are not at all shy.

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Name

Long-billed Curlew
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Probes with its long curved beak

Habitat

Wetlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - no variation in breeding andf non-breeding plumage

Distribution

Primarily western states - also southeast coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

One can not see this magnificent bird for the first time without experiencing a thrill of enthusiasm for the largest, one of the most interesting and notable of our shore birds, one that seems to embody more than any other the wild, roving spirit of the vast open prairies. Its large size, its long, curving bill, the flash of cinnamon in its wings, and above all, its loud, clear, and prolonged whistling notes are bound to attract attention. In its former abundance this species must have been a most striking feature of the western plains, as it flew in large wedge-shaped flocks in full cry. The last of the great open prairies are rapidly disappearing; and with them are going the curlews, the marbled godwits, the upland plover, the longspurs, and a host of other birds that can not stand the encroachments of agriculture. 

The long-billed curlew formerly bred over a large portion of central North America, including all of the prairie regions, at least as far east as Michigan and Illinois, and probably Ohio. But, with the settling of the country and the disappearance of the prairies, it has been gradually driven farther and farther west, and even there into a more and more restricted range. It seems to me that we can hope for its survival only on the maintenance of large, open ranges as grazing lands for cattle where it still continues to breed.

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Common Snipe
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects and earthworms

Feeding Techniques

Probing the ground with its long beak.

Habitat

Wet areas such as marshes, wetlands etc.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout most of the United States

Breeding

Female builds nest on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Snipe are notorious for their erratic flight and they often, probably usually, do dodge and zigzag when they first flush in alarm, but not always; I have seen them fly away as steadily as any other shore bird. Snipe usually lie closely crouched on the ground trusting to their excellent protective coloration, and do not flush until nearly trodden upon; so that in their hurry to get away their flight is erratic. When well under way their flight is steady and swift with the occasional turnings common to all shore birds. When first flushed they generally fly low, but when flying from one part of a marsh to another, or when migrating, they fly very high. When alighting they pitch down suddenly from a great height and then flutter down slowly into the grass or drop straight down with wings elevated and bill pointing upwards. They are less gregarious than other waders; they usually flush singly, but often within a few yards of each other if plentiful. They are seldom seen in flocks. John T. Nichols tells me in his notes of a flock of seven which he saw on Long Island:

They were flying high from the east to west, the regular southward lane for shore birds, and bunched up like dowitchers or yellowlegs as they circled over the marsh, then slanted down obliquely (as these other birds would have done) to alight on a piece of dead stubble, by the time I reached them they had scattered somewhat; four (scattered) and three (bunched) flushed from this spot in close succession, and went off into the southwest. The migration of the snipe may be mostly by night; it certainly flies to some extent along the coast by day.

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Solitary Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Probes

Habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US, midwest

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This dainty "woodland tattler" is associated in my mind with some secluded, shady woodland pool in early autumn, where the summer drought has exposed broad muddy shores and where the brightly tinted leaves of the swamp maple float lightly on the still water. Here the solitary wader may be seen, gracefully poised on some fallen log, nodding serenely, or walking gracefully over the mud or in the shallow water. Seldom disturbed by man, it hardly seems to heed his presence; it may raise its wings, displaying their pretty linings, or it may flit lightly away to the other side of the pool, with a few sharp notes of protest and a flash of white in its tail. I have often seen it in other places where one would not expect to find shore birds, such as the muddy banks of a sluggish stream, somewhat polluted with sewage, which flows back of my garden in the center of the city, or some barnyard mud puddle, reeking with the filth of cattle; perhaps it is attracted to such unsavory places by the swarms of flies that it finds there.

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Spotted Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Probes

Habitat

Wide variety of water habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. - breeding plumage has spotted breast, non-breeding plumage has a white breast

Distribution

Throughout the country

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Nothing is more characteristic of the spotted sandpiper than its flight. When it first starts from the shore the wings seem to vibrate like a taut wire; then, as the bird gains headway, they set and, depressed and quivering, they carry the bird slowly onward, often swaying from side to side, close to the surface of the water. As a rule, when startled, the sandpiper takes a semicircular course and alights a short distance farther up the beach, and if followed either takes another flight onward or doubles back as a kingfisher would do under similar circumstances. This, scaling flight, somewhat after the manner of a meadow lark, is seen most commonly during the summer, but on infrequent occasions the sandpiper lets go his wings and carries them back with a long, free sweep and speeds through the air with the rapidity of a swallow. The transition from one kind of flight to the other is remarkable to see; with outstretched neck it drives along with regular wing beats, a long, slender, unfamiliar-looking wader.

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Upland Sandpiper
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly insects; also some plant material

Feeding Techniques

Forages by walking along the ground

Habitat

Prairie - see below

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily in the eastern states

Breeding

Both sexes build nest on ground in grass

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Let us be thankful that this gentle and lovely bird is no longer called Bartramian sandpiper. It is a sandpiper truly enough, but one that has adopted the haunts and many of the habits of the plovers. To those who love the rolling or hilly pasture lands of the east or the broad flat prairies of the middle west, it will always be known as the upland or "field plover or "prairie dove," or, more affectionately, as "quailie." It is a characteristic bird of the prairies and wide open grassy fields, where it once abounded in enormous numbers. Excessive shooting for the market, where it was much in demand, reduced its numbers to an alarmingly low ebb. Dr. Thomas S. Roberts (1919) says that, in Minnesota:

Fifty years ago it was present all through the summer, everywhere in open country, in countless thousands. Now it is nearing extinction. Here and there an occasional breeding pair may yet be found, but they are lonely occupants of the places where their ancestors dwelt in vast numbers.

And with the disappearing prairies have gone these and other interesting birds that made the wide open places so attractive. When I visited the Quill Lake region in Saskatchewan in 1917, I found that practically all the prairies had been burned over or cultivated; the long-billed curlew had entirely disappeared, though recently abundant there, and I saw only one pair of chestnut-collared longspurs; but some of the upland plover were adapting themselves to the new conditions and were nesting in cultivated fields, much as the spotted sandpipers and the killdeer have learned to nest in grain fields and truck gardens. Perhaps such adaptation may be the salvation of a useful and attractive species. Some observers report it as already increasing in numbers.

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Northern Jacana
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages for food around lilies

Habitat

Tropical marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern part of Texas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The American jacanas are now split into three species and three additional subspecies, six forms in all. They are widely distributed throughout the American Tropics. All are closely related and all are much alike in habits. The above form barely comes within the range of our check list, as a rare straggler from Mexico into the valley of the lower Rio Grande near Brownsville, Tex.

I have never seen this curious bird in life, but can imagine that it must be a beautiful sight to see it tripping lightly over the floating lily pads, supported on its long toes, where it seems to be actually walking on the water; and it must produce quite a surprising thrill as it spreads its wings to fly, displaying the conspicuous yellow-green patches in its wings, which flash in the sunlight like banners of golden yellow. It seems like a strange connecting link between the spur-winged plovers and the rails or gallinules.

It is a sedentary species of decidedly local distribution and seldom strays far from its favorite breeding haunts. Thomas S. Gillin, who has sent me some very good notes on this bird, describes its habitat as follows:

I learned of a lake a few miles from Tampico and on my first visit to this lake on April 3, 1923, I found over a dozen birds feeding and chasing one another over the floating vegetation. As the first sets of eggs were found on April 25 I apparently found them right in the midst of the mating season. The lake where I found them was about a half mile long and from 100 to 250 yards wide, curved and irregular in outline. Nowhere in the lake was the water over 4 feet deep except where the alligators had their holes; in some of these spots there was always danger of getting in over one's head. Scattered through the lake were a few stunted trees similar in appearance to our sour gum, Nyssss sylvatica, and in the decayed stump of one of these trees I found a nest of the black-bellied tree duck. About one-third of the surface of the lake was open water and the remaining two-thirds was covered with a floating plant, each individual plant measuring about 12 inches across and resembling lettuce that has not headed up, though the leaves were coarser, more like cabbage leaves. As this did not have its roots extending into the mud the entire mass of vegetation at times changed its position as the direction of the winds might change and cause the entire body of vegetation, and again only part of it, to drift to the opposite side of the lake. The jacanas were, to all appearances, in no way inconvenienced by these free rides, though there was always the danger that the eggs might be lost by the move. During my many visits to this lake from early April until the middle of August I always found the jacanas playing or feeding over the surface of the vegetation. At times the green herons, little blue herons, and an occasional gallinule, least bittern, or redwing would be seen feeding on the surface of the lake.

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Red-necked Phalarope
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects and crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Finds prey off the surface of the water. Sometimes creates a whirlpool that draws up prey items from a small body of water.

Habitat

Water areas generally near the coast.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage. and seasonal plumages. Female is more brightly colored than the male.

Distribution

Along both coasts. Sometimes seen inland.

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The same gifted writer (Dr. E. W. Nelson) goes on to say:

As the season comes on when the flames of love mount high, the dull-colored male moves about the pool, apparently heedless of the surrounding fair ones. Such stoical indifference usually appears too much for the feelings of some of the fair ones to bear. A female coyly glides close to him and bows her head in pretty submissiveness, but he turns away, pecks at a bit of food and moves off; she follows and he quickens his speed, but in vain; he is her choice, and she proudly arches her neck and in mazy circles passes and repasses close before the harassed bachelor. He turns his breast first to one side, then to the other, as though to escape, but there is his gentle wooer ever pressing her suit before him. Frequently he takes flight to another part of the pool, all to no purpose. If with affected indifference he tries to feed, she swims along side by side, almost touching him, and at intervals rises on wing above him and, poised a foot or two over his back, makes a half dozen quick, sharp wing strokes, producing a series of sharp, whistling noises in rapid succession. In the course of time it is said that water will wear the hardest rock, and it is certain that time and importunity have their full effect upon the male of this phalarope, and soon all are comfortably married, while mater familias no longer needs to use her seductive ways and charming blandishments to draw his notice.

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Name

Wilson's Phalarope
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects and crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Feeds more like a shorebird as it wanders shorelines finding prey.

Habitat

Fresh water areas

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage. and seasonal plumages. Female is more brightly colored than the male.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The loss of the prairies are keenly felt in these comments and those of the Upland Sandpiper.

Notes from A.C. Bent

I shall never forget my first impressions of a prairie slough with its teeming bird life, an oasis of moisture in a sea of dry, grassy plain, where all the various water birds of the region were thickly congregated. Perhaps 10 or a dozen species of ducks could be seen in the open water, gulls and terns were drifting about overhead, grebes and countless coots were scurrying in and out among the reeds, and noisy killdeers added their plaintive cries to the ceaseless din from swarms of blackbirds in the marsh. In marked contrast to the clownish coots and the noisy killdeers and blackbirds, the almost silent, gentle, dainty, little phalaropes stand out in memory as charming features in the picture, so characteristic of western bird life. The virgin prairies are nearly gone, but there are still left a few oases of moisture in our encroaching civilization, where these graceful birds may continue to delight the eye with their gentle manners.

Unlike the other two world-wide species, the Wilson phalarope is a strictly American bird, making its summer home in the interior of North America and wintering in southern South America. It differs from the other two also in being less pelagic and more terrestrial; it is seldom, if ever, seen on the oceans, being a bird of the inland marshes; and it prefers to spend more time walking about on land, or wading in shallow water, than swimming on the water. Hence its bill, neck and legs are longer, and its feet less lobed. It is a more normal shore bird.

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Red Phalarope
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects and crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Feed from the water and sometimes land on marine mammals to find food. See below.

Habitat

Oceanic

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage. and seasonal plumages. Female is more brightly colored than the male.

Distribution

Found along both coasts

Breeding

Female courts the male and has brighter plumage.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Delphinapterous leucas is the scientific name for the Beluga Whale

Ludwig Kumlien (1853-1902)

Ludwig Kumlien was the chief naturalist aboard the Florence during the Howgate Polar Expedition of 1877-1878. The primary objective of this American expedition was to establish a settlement on the shores of Lady Franklin Bay. Scientific work was of second priority, followed by whaling. As the voyage departed late, much of the collecting season was missed, but valuable scientific work was done. Kumlien took detailed notes on a number of mammals and birds in the area, and aided in meterolological studies. His findings on ethnology, mammology and ornithology, along with notes by fellow scientists on the expedition were published in 1879.

Kumlien, L. 1879. Contributions to the natural history of Arctic America, made in connection with the Howgate polar expedition, 1877-78. Government Printing Office, Washington.

http://www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/links_researchers/research/researchers/Leaders_1750-1900/kumlien.htm

Delphinapterous leucas - The beluga whale or white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is an Arctic and sub-Arctic cetacean.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: During the month or so that they are on their northern breeding grounds the red phalaropes are shore birds, feeding in the tundra pools or along the shores, but during the rest of the year they are essentially sea birds, feeding on or about the floating masses of kelp or seaweeds, or following the whales or schools of large fish; hence they are aptly called "sea geese," "whale birds," or "bowhead birds." They occasionally come in to brackish pools near the shore or rarely are seen on the sandy beaches or mud flats feeding with other shore birds. Outlying rocky islands are often favorite feeding places. Ludwig Kumlien (1879) writes:

Whalemen always watch these birds while thcy are wheeling around high in the air in graceful and rapid circles, for they know that as soon as they sight a whale blowing they start for him, and from their elevated position they can, of course, discern one at a much greater distance than the men in the boat. I doubt if it be altogether the marine animals brought to the surface by the whale that they are after, for if the whale remains above the surface any length of time they always settle on his back and hunt parasites. One specimen was brought me by an Eskimo that he had killed on the back of an Orca gladiator; the esophagus was fairly crammed with Laernodipodian crustaceans, still alive, although the bird had been killed some hours; they looked to me like Caprella phasma and Cyamus ceti. According to the Eskimo who killed it, the birds were picking something from the whale's back. I have often seen them dart down among a school of Delphinapterous leucas (Beluga Whale) and follow them as far as I could see. On one occasion a pair suddenly alighted astern of my boat and were not 3 feet from me at times; they followed directly in the wake of the boat, and seemed so intent on picking up food that they paid no attention whatever to us. They had probably mistaken the boat for a whale.

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Piping Plover

Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans, insects

Feeding Techniques

Runs along the shoreline,stops and picks at prey on the surface.

Habitat

Sandy beaches, lakeshores, dunes

Plumage

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Arthur Howell (1924) says: The food of this plover, as indicated by the contents of four stomachs secured in Alabama, consists principally of marine worms, fly larvae, and beetles." E. H. Forbush (1925) lists the following: "Insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and other small marine animals and their eggs."

The feeding habits of the piping plover as it hunts for food along our beaches are characteristic. In marked contrast to the nervous haste of the sanderling and the rapid darting about with lightning-like thrusts of the bill of the smallest sandpipers, the behavior of the plover is leisurely, and as they pick up food from the sand the movements of the head are deliberate. Three or four may sweep down the beach together, close to the sand, but when they alight, after a moment of stillness, they separate, each bird running a little way, isolating itself from its companions (another point of difference from the sanderling, etc., which in migration tend to keep close in a flock while feeding.) Generally they begin at once to hunt for food. They run a short distance, then pause and stare at the sand with neck a little outstretched, head tilted a bit to one side, perhaps looking for a movement to show where food is, for often, learning farther forward, they pick something from the sand.