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How to Use This Guide
Stokes Beginner's Guide to Shorebirds is a handy guide to identifying the major species of shorebirds found in North America. This includes the 49 regularly seen species and 4 that are only rarely seen.
Identifying shorebirds is easiest if you can get some idea of the size of the bird you are watching. In the Color Tab Index we have given you some measurements and comparisons with other common birds -crows, robins, sparrows -but these species are not usually near shorebirds. The best way to determine size in shorebirds is to learn to identify a few of the more common and easily recognizable species. These then become what we call "marker birds" -shorebirds that you use as a sort of measuring stick with which to compare the size of other shorebirds. Marker birds are indicated in the Clues at the beginning of each color tab section.
Some of the best marker birds in each size category are:
Large birds -Willet
Medium birds -Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover
Small birds -Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover
In practically any group of shore-birds, there is one of these species. When looking over a group of shore-birds, look for marker birds first; this will make it easier to sort out the rest of the birds by size.
Color Tab Index and Clues Pages
Use the Color Tab Index to help you decide the size of the bird you are trying to identify and, in the case of medium-sized birds, the relative length of the bird's bill. Long bills are twice the depth of the head; medium bills are about the depth of the head; and short bills are clearly shorter than the depth of the head. (The depth of the head is the distance from the base of the bill to the back of the head.)
Then turn to the first two pages of the appropriate color tab section, where you will find the Clues pages. These are designed to help you either make the identification right away or narrow down your possible choices. Check your final identification by turning to the species accounts in that section.
Inside the back cover is a silhouette guide to the main shorebirds included in this book. In a few cases, when the silhouettes of two or more birds are extremely similar, the birds are represented by a single silhouette (for example, American and Black Oystercatcher are both represented by the silhouette labeled Oystercatchers). These drawings are true to life since they are based on tracings of photographs. They have been arranged in order of their relative size, from largest to smallest, according to the length of the bird.
All of the major species have complete identification descriptions. The common name of the bird is followed by the scientific name and the bird's length. Length is a measurement of the bird from the tip of the tail to the tip of the bill.
Because most shorebirds undergo seasonal plumage variation, we have divided many of the detailed clues to their identification into seasonal sections. Main Year-round Clues describe features that apply to the adult bird regardless of season. Additional Summer Clues describe features that can further aid identification when the birds are in their breeding plumage (roughly March through August). Additional Winter Clues describe features that can further aid identification when the birds are in their nonbreeding plumage (roughly September through February).
Some species of shorebirds have distinctive juvenal plumages and these are mentioned under the heading Juvenile. (Juvenal plumage is the first full set of feathers of a young bird after it loses its natal down.)
Under the heading In Flight are clues to help you identify a bird on the wing. This is sometimes very helpful, since shorebirds do a lot of flying.
And Call is an approximation of the most common sounds made by that species.
Range and Migration Maps
The range and migration maps that accompany each species description are special innovations of this guide. We have included them because the majority of our shorebirds breed in the Arctic and winter in South America. Thus, our best time to see them is during migration. In addition, shorebirds are very easy to observe as they migrate -they are active during the day, they often gather in large flocks, and they often feed in open areas such as beaches or mudflats.
Key to the Maps
Most species accounts include two maps with these features:
* The yellow-shaded area shows the summer, or breeding, range.
* The blue-shaded area shows the winter, or nonbreeding, range. (Some birds may remain on their wintering grounds during their first summer.)
* The green area shows the year-round range, where a species breeds and spends the winter.
* The dotted lines and the dates beside them show where and when a species occurs during migration. (See below for more detailed information on how to interpret these lines.)
* The spring migration map shows the routes and timing of a species as the bird flies north, the fall map shows the routes and timing of a species as it flies south.
Below each map there is also a sentence or two containing more information about the migration of the species; this information may be on any of several topics, such as:
* Habitat used during migration
* Duration of migration
* Size of the flocks in which the species is typically seen
* Whether the species is found in mixed flocks
* Differences in timing of migration between similar species
* Whether the species is often seen outside its migration
Additional Information on the Red Dotted Lines
Migration route -The red dotted lines are drawn across the entire width of a species' regular migration route. If a map has long lines drawn from coast to coast, then this species can be seen all across the country. Short lines indicate a narrower migration route and a more limited area in which the bird can be commonly seen. For many species, fall and spring migration routes are different.
Shorebirds can wander widely during migration, so individuals and small flocks may be seen outside a species' regular migration route.
Timing of the first major wave of migrants -The date that appears by each red line tells when the first major wave of migrants of a species arrives in that area. These dates are averages based on many years of field observation by hundreds of observers. Individuals and small flocks may arrive earlier and other waves may occur later.
Generally, the dates are presented in half-month intervals, as this makes the map easily readable. In a few cases one-month intervals are shown because migration of that species is moving slowly at that time and there is no room to clearly put in the half-month interval.
Several weather-related factors may alter the timing of migration. For instance, a storm front may cause birds to delay their departure. Also, a warm front may trigger early northward movement, while a cold front may trigger early southward movement. Wind and rain are also factors. Tailwinds help migrating birds fly more quickly and arrive at their destination sooner, while headwinds may slow migration. Very strong winds, regardless of direction, can temporarily stop birds (especially smaller birds) from migrating. A steady rain can also bring migration to a temporary halt. Fog has the same effect.
Depending on which of these factors come into play, you may notice the first major wave of a species in your area arriving either before or after the dates shown on the maps.
Photographs and Silhouettes
Photographs have been carefully chosen to represent the most important plumages that the average observer is likely to see. Every shorebird species has a variety of plumages and conditions of plumage, and it would be impossible to include them all in any guide. And remember that each individual shore-bird can look slightly different from others of its species; whether you are using a drawn picture or a photograph for identification, it is only a representation of one bird. In every case, we have tried to pick photographs that best represent a species.
Since many shorebirds are similar in plumage, obvious or even subtle differences in their shapes and proportions can be extremely helpful to identification. It is easiest to see these differences through silhouettes. Thus, each bird's identification page includes its silhouette. Occasionally, we have added silhouettes of other species for comparison when we thought it would be helpful.
Excerpted from Stokes Beginner's Guide to Shorebirds by Donald Stokes and Lillian Stokes. Copyright © 2001 by Donald W. Stokes and Lillian Q. Stokes. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.