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Birds At The Beach

Did you know that some of our shorebirds are also snowbirds?

A small flock of sanderlings troll for coquina clams and mole crabs 
buried just beneath the wet sand.

A small flock of sanderlings troll for coquina clams and mole crabs buried just beneath the wet sand.

Nothing compares to the beach for peace and quiet. You plant yourself in the sand, take a deep breath and inhale the serenity. And then you notice the birds — small and somewhat nondescript, they are frantically working the waves that lap at the shore. They are mesmerizing. In many cases this is how people first become acquainted with one of our most captivating bird groups, the shorebirds.

Peninsular Florida’s position on the southeast coast of North America is an especially important location for migratory birds that fly south in winter and back north to breed in summer. Favorable winds, currents and shoreline topography fuel many flyways in North America, and this one, known as the Atlantic Flyway, is used by migrants from almost every major North American bird group. They take advantage of its virtues for their seasonal movements, some continuing on to South America and others staying for our beaches, estuaries and wetlands.

While most of the migrating shore- birds do not actually breed in coastal habitats once they return north, their name is more of a reflection of the fact that two-thirds of them use shorelines for stopovers on their way farther south or as wintering grounds. As omnivores, they eat terrestrial plant materials, insects and aquatic invertebrates. Although the migrants often cross large marine expanses, they do not feed while migrating, as seabirds do. Instead they bulk up prior to the crossing by exploiting abundant coastal resources. It is their dependence on the rich bounty of estuarine and coastal habitats that contributes to their recognition as marine birds as well.

But we do have year-round shorebirds in Florida too, and it is our good fortune that they frequent the same beautiful places that we Floridians visit for recreation — the beaches, inlets, estuaries  and athletic fields. Even for seasoned birders, some of these birds, such as a group of small shorebirds referred to collectively as “peeps,” are difficult to identify.