Beach Chair Birding

While enjoying the pleasures of beach chair biology, it would be a real shame to overlook the wide variety of coastal birds that can be observed from a comfortable lean. I know, I know those seagulls may be obstructing your view, but if you head out at the right time of day or year, and if you look closely enough, you’ll find a wide variety of different birds to study and learn about.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
 This little beauty is found all over the world, as long as there are beaches nearby. Its harlequin pattern makes it beautiful in and out of breeding season, but the patterns that emerge when this bird is breeding are unforgettable. So, I’m afraid, is its call, which is rattling most of the time and quite obnoxious when it transforms into the alarm-call.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)
These fun, freckled shorebirds are most often found in North and South America, although one will occasionally make his way into Europe. They not much for flying, usually choosing to foraging for their food and building their nests on the ground, but they can put on a show, catching insects in mid-flight.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliated)
I’ve always found Oystercatchers to be sort of silly looking, but like most birds they’re beautiful in their own way. Their long, thick, orange beak is perfect for breaking open mollusks, which is how they got their very descriptive name. They’re most likely to be found along the Atlantic coast of the US and the Pacific coasts of South and Central America.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
This particular avocet is a member of the stilt family, and it’s thin, gray legs earned it the nickname ‘blue shanks.’ It is most likely to be found on the North American Pacific coast, but it will move inland as far as the mid-west during its breeding season. They’re migratory, making their way down into Mexico during the winter, and they’re also quite social, forming breeding colonies with dozens of pairs, and then grouping into huge flocks when the season is over.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana)
I saved this for last to reward you for reading all the way through. I’ve been a birder for many, many years, and I find pleasure in just about every aspect of it, but sometimes the names we give to the creatures around us just make me smile.

The Wandering Tattler is a somewhat plain-looking bird without much pattern on its back at all, just dull gray wings. Their breast is covered by a scaly pattern, but otherwise they’re what we used to call ‘Plain Jane.’ They migrate from Alaska to Australia, so depending on the time of year they can be found along the costs of North and South America.

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

They are wading birds and feed mostly on crustaceans and marine worms, but during mating season they’ve been known to expand their diets to include a variety of insects. They may be plain in color, but their foraging process more than makes up for it. They have a tendency to bob in and out of the water, giving the Oystercatchers a run for their money when it comes to silliness.

Ernie Allison is a freelance writer for PerkyPet, which makes high quality bird feeders to bring a little more nature to your backyard.

If you’re interested in guest posting for Beach Chair Scientist, please email info@beachchairscientist.com for more information.

Comparing seabirds, shorebirds, and wading birds

Here is a general overview of 10 characteristics of seabirds (birds that spend most of their life out at sea), shorebirds (migratory birds that scurry along the shore looking for food), and wading birds (taller birds that wade in wetlands for their food).

10 characteristics of seabirds (Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, murre, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g., albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g., gannets) have head shape is usually tapered more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 characteristics of shorebirds (Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 characteristics of wading birds (Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.