Long-legged Shorebird Specifics

Ok, so here’s another request for confirmation/clarification:


The question is about the long-legged bird in the center (not the gull, although feel free to make guesses on that too, as I have yet to fully process/ID everyone in this series of photos). 

The fact is that I have half of the ID… and I suspect it’s even one that I helped someone else ID previously, but since it is also headed for the life list, I am interested to find out what makes this one the specific bird that it is.  I photographed it a couple weeks ago at the Merritt Island refuge (east central FL) and I have no other shots of it, as it was a chance sighting. 

Thanks so much!!


15 responses to “Long-legged Shorebird Specifics

  1. Subscribing

  2. Enlarging it didn’t show the beak to be slightly upturned…it doesn’t appear to be as tall as the Greater Yellowlegs, nor does it appear to have the dark barring below the wings……my guess would be Lesser Yellowlegs.

  3. Diane, I can’t see your reply yet.

    Jo, you have sent me back to my drawing board, I’m afraid. 😕 That’s not the same type of bird that I was eyeballing as an ID option, but I don’t think I looked as closely at the Yellowlegs as I probably should have because I jumped to the other conclusion a bit quickly. I am off to go re-examine my guides. 🙂

    Thank you!

    • That’s cuz I haven’t replied…Sorry! I haven’t dipped my toe into the shorebird water yet, so I was just subscribing to this post so I could follow the discussion. 🙂

  4. I hope you come to the same conclusion that I have, Jenn.

  5. Jenn, you wanted to know why the bird is what it is. First of all, this is actually considered chunky, but short winged as well as a short-legged bird. The crouch might throw off the ID. The bird does not have a particularly small head. It may or may not have yellow at the base of the bill although if it had bright yellow that would be a distinguishing sign. The long bill is something books will mention, but even that is not always as easy to determine as one would hope. I do not believe this is a slender bill. The flanks are heavily barred. The color of the feathers is more of a tricolor, as if the “rust” of the breeding plumage is left over in some places. If the bird were standing straight up, it would be more obvious that the length of the legs is short.

    This bird’s ID could easily be confused with another bird that has a more delicate appearance, with a slim chest, a small head and long legs. The bill is slender. Whether moulting, juvenile or adult, it has distinct spots, found in all or parts of its plumage. The spots provide quite a contrast with the rest of the feathers. The two species are close in size.

  6. Is this a common snipe?

  7. So… I am going to wade into this discussion (my apologies for the bad joke) and say that based on this photo, the nonbreeding Short-billed Dowitcher does seem to me to be a likely candidate. The base of the bill does seem to be yellowish-green, the neck is shorter and the bill size (relative to the head) is also right. Additional clues would be the bird’s sewing-machine feeding motion or the white wedge on its back (in flight), but I do not know if you managed to see either.

    Having said all this, I am keenly aware that shorebirds are notoriously difficult to ID with 100% accuracy unless you see how they behave or, in a few cases, hear their cries.

    Good luck with your ID.

    • Pierre, have you ever noticed the “bird’s sewing-machine feeding motion?” I have frequently seen mixed flocks at a small nearby beach, the two species of similar size being Short-billed Dowitchers and Red Knots. When I have taken a quick look hoping to ID which is which quickly by watching feeding patterns, I’ve never distinguished the Short-billed Dowitcher that way. I am still working at it. Our winter migrants here in Florida include both of these species in their non-breeding plumage giving me more opportunity to figure all this out.

  8. ” . . . the bird’s sewing-machine feeding motion . . . ”

    That’s a wonderful description to remember!

  9. a) I should actually read descriptions in guides more thoroughly.

    b) I should go back to Peterson’s now & then! With so many other FG’s to hand, I find it’s far from the first one I pick up. But the reason I have so many is precisely for little helpful tidbits like this, which one guide will have for one species, another for another species, etc. If that makes sense!

    c) My real excuse is that I’ve been avoiding shorebirds for, like, ever. . .

  10. I need to interject here to say that I suspected Jenn’s “request for confirmation/clarification” referred to her thinking that the bird is a Short-billed Dowitcher. I didn’t mean to be so obscure. That’s why the first paragraph of my previous comments described a Short-billed Dowitcher. Pierre, you I are on exactly the same page here. My second paragraph referred to Yellowlegs, whether Lesser or Greater.

  11. Regarding the sowing machine motion: I have seen it before in some shorebirds, but I am not sure that I have seen it for the Short-billed Dowitcher. It is quite distinctive when you see it clearly and the analogy is very apt (it becomes quite funny after a while, actually).

    As for the Peterson FG: many of the others are more complete and detailed, but I find that for 99% of my birding, he does the trick (and avoids the confusion the others can sow in my rather simple mind). In fact, the only others I use on or off the field are on my iPod/iPad (Audubon and iBirds), since they both provide photos and extensive recordings (usually several of both for each species).

    • It would be handy if the Short-billed did that (sewing machine) and the Long-billed didn’t!

      I still use a ton of hard copy FG’s at home, but agree that the photo/sound track capabilities of the internet are a huge boon.