Sunday, March 25, 2012

Confusing shorebirds - a pair of Sanderling

We recently spotted two white shorebirds running in and out of the dunes of Sandy Point in West Haven in the fog. They were acting like a pair and interacting with another pair of Piping Plover. However, they were not Piping Plovers themselves despite their possibly confusing appearance - they were Sanderling.

Most of the time we see Piping Plovers confused with Killdeer because of their similar enough appearance and behavior. Sanderling are often in large groups on the shore, sometimes mixed with Dunlin, closer to the waves, and feeding at the high tide line at the highest point. It was very strange to see these two acting like they were Piping Plovers and goes to show you that you never know quite what to expect with individual birds. Here is a brief paragraph from the CT DEEP website on Piping Plover appearance:

Identification: Piping plovers are white below and creamy brown above, the color of dry sand. During the breeding season, they have a single black neck band that is sometimes incomplete and a black bar above the white forehead. This black neck band is completely lacking in winter. Their primary feathers are dark brown. The rump is white, contrasting with the brown back and tail, which are very conspicuous in the bird's distraction display. The bill is orange with a black tip; the feet are also orange. The voice is a clear "peep-lo"; often only the "peep" is given. The piping plover is often confused with another member of its family, the killdeer, which has 2 black bands across its chest and is larger than the plover. 

Note that the Sanderling do not have any colored bands, and compare their photos to the rest of the description.

A Piping Plover on that same day:

A closer shot of one of the Sanderling:

What else is different? Note the legs, body and head shape, and bill color and size. Have you seen any other birds behaving like Piping Plovers or providing for confusion moments?

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

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