What kind of shorebird is this?

Hello all,

The following picture was actually taken almost two years ago (in August 2010) and features two shorebirds that I was not able to identify with 100% certainty at the time. I then posted the picture on the late lamented original We Love Birds website and got a fairly definitive ID from various birders. I would nevertheless like to get a second opinion from this group to see what you think…

BTW: this photo was taken in August on Good Harbor Beach (Cape Ann), in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Mystery Shorebird: taken in August 2010 at Good Harbor Beach (Cape Ann), Gloucester, Massachusetts


11 responses to “What kind of shorebird is this?

  1. My first thought….Ruddy Turnstone….although the legs do not appear to be the bright orange.color that Turnstones have.

  2. That is a good guess, but the colour of the legs precludes this choice. In fact, only three birds have backs with this general colouring, black legs and a completely black bill of this general length and shape: Sanderlings and Semipalmated or Western Sandpipers. Most commentators leaned towards the last bird on that list because the bill seemed slightly thicker and longer in relation to the head than would have been the case with the other two and it drooped ever so slightly at the end. Thoughts?

  3. My thoughts are that Western Sandpipers are rarely seen in MA, but that doesn’t mean that they never show up there. If so, might these be juveniles, because an adult wouldn’t have that clean white belly in August. The bill on the one in the back does look slightly drooped, while the one in front has a shorter, but thicker bill with no droop and a much darker coloration on the head. Are they the same species? I’m confused, which is why I usually leave shorebird ID to others, but it’s nice to try to figure them out..

  4. I’ll go with Western Sandpiper, too. The bird in the back is easier to get the ID. I see the drooping bill clearly there. The bright rufous scapulars and breast markings lead me to think we’re looking at juveniles. Adults have paler rufous patches and more heavily spotted and streaked breasts.

  5. I will answer both comments at the same time… apparently, WS’s winter regularly on the East Coast (as far north as New Jersey), so Massachusetts would not be much of a stretch on an unusual year (and since it was quite warm all along the coast at this point, perhaps these birds went north to flee the excesive heat). And the idea that they are juveniles would explain the odd breast colouring.

    However, the suggestion that they are not the same species is excellent, so I will think about this a bit more….

  6. I think they are the same species, but I was more confident using the characteristics of the bird in the back for the ID.

  7. SLB, If you click on the picture to enlarge it (and you can enlarge it even more by clicking on it again) it looks as though the two bills are different, as I noted in my post, which led me to ask if they were two separate species.

  8. What are you thinking the birds are, Jo? While my print guides seem split, I looked up lists of birds in MA on the internet and did discover Western Sandpipers on four very reliable sources. I magnified the bird in the front. I don’t know if it is the angle, lighting or what, but it is not that clear to me. The bill does look straighter than the bird in the back, but Westerns are not all droopy. This may be just another way birds complicate our IDing them.

  9. I think the one in the back is a Western Sandpiper, but the front one has a bill which is thicker, shorter and not droopy like the other bird’s….but after looking at some pictures on the Internet of juvenile W. Sandpipers, I think that that’s what it is and I go along with your view, SLB, that it’s just another way that birds complicate our attempts to ID them. Got any more shorebirds, Pierre? This was interesting!

  10. Hi folks! I’m on vacation right now, which is why I’m pretty much out of touch, but I wanted to respond quickly to all your messages. Thanks for the comments, which seem to confirm my previous ID. And as a matter of fact, I will post two other shorebird picture when I get a chance, taken on the other end of the continent. I promise that they will in all likelihood be at least as challenging as thi one!

  11. Good to hear from you. Hope you are having a great vacation. Looking forward to seeing your pics.