What are Peeps?
Shorebirds, such as plovers and sandpipers, are a captivating group of birds primarily adapted to live in open areas such as shorelines, wetlands and grasslands. Some shorebirds in the genus Caladris are generically called "peeps". They are very similar in appearance and very challenging to distinguish in the field. In North America these include the Baird's, Least, Semipalmated, Western, and White-rumped sandpipers. (The term "peep" derives from the sound of the typical calls these birds make.) There are over 200 species of shorebird found world-wide. Approximately 50 regularly breed, winter or migrate through the United States and Canada. About 40 of these can be found within the Great Plains in their appropriate habitat.
Where do they live?
As migrants, shorebirds are faced with many challenges. Often, their breeding and wintering grounds are thousands of miles apart and in different countries. While migrating, staging areas are needed for resting and feeding. Countries need to plan and communicate, at the international level, to ensure adequate conservation and provide breeding, wintering and migratory habitat for these species. Within the Great Plains, there are several spectacular migratory staging areas for shorebirds. These areas provide habitat for several different species at any time and can be good places to improve your identification skills.
Although most people associate shorebirds with wetlands and ocean shorelines, many species use shortgrass, tallgrass and mixed grass prairies. Several species, such as Long-billed Curlews, Upland Sandpipers and Marbled Godwits, are grassland specialists during the breeding season. Others, such as Buff-breasted Sandpipers, are found on shortgrass habitats and plowed fields during migration. Snowy Plovers are commonly found in the southern Great Plains on bare alkali flats. Mountain Plovers are bare ground specialists, often seen in plowed agricultural fields and freshly burned shortgrass prairies in the western Great Plains. These are among the species which have adapted to the grasslands and wetlands found in the region for at least part of their life cycle.
DID YOU KNOW?
Nesting in the high Arctic, this sandpiper is seen by birders mostly in its migrations through the Great Plains. Many other shorebirds that migrate north through the prairies in spring go south off our Atlantic Coast in fall; however, Baird's follows the plains route at both seasons, although a few spread out to either coast in fall.
Which ones are found in the Great Plains?
Species accounts and scientific names in this pocket guide are in taxonomic order and follow the 7th edition (1998) of The A.O.U. [American Ornithologists’ Union] Check-list of North American Birds and its supplements (42-47). Name changes and reordering occur regularly as biologists learn more about species and how they are related.
The Peep's Puddle highlights key characteristics of the 38 most visible and common species found in the Great Plains, which includes the prairie states and provinces of central North America. The purpose of this guide is to help identify the different species and provide information on shorebird habitat and natural history. We hope it helps increase your enjoyment of these fascinating creatures. Click on the links in the list below to learn more about each species.
Stilts & Avocets
Rare Great Plains Shorebirds
Because of the similarities of these vagrants to the more common Great Plains shorebirds, be sure to use more detailed resources to confirm any of the following.
L: 6 1/2-8" Wingspan: 15 1/2-19 1/2"
Found along the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts, inland birds have been reported from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The robin-sized body and black bill separate it from Semipalmated, Snowy and Piping plovers and the single breast band separates it from Killdeer and Mountain Plover.
L: 16-17 1/2" Wingspan: 29 1/4-32 1/2"
Found along the southern Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts, inland birds have been reported from Oklahoma and Texas. The large size, dark brown and white body, black head and chest, pink legs, yellow eye and heavy, chisel-shaped red-orange bill are distinctive.
L: 11 1/2-12 1/2" Wingspan: 24 1/2- 26 3/4"
This Old World species has been reported in Saskatchewan, Kansas and Texas. Breeding birds are black with red legs and a red and black, slightly drooping bill. Nonbreeding adults and juveniles are reminiscent of yellowlegs but dark lores, white supercilium, red legs and the red base of their lower mandible are distinctive.
L: 12-14 3/4" Wingspan: 28 3/4-33 1/4"
Because of historic market shooting and habitat destruction this once abundant boreal breeder has not been verified since the 1960s. The elliptical migration pattern took large flocks from southern South America north through the Great Plains to northern Canada in spring, then south through the Canadian Maritimes and across the Atlantic back to the wintering grounds. Within the Great Plains, they associated with American Golden-Plovers on grasslands. Similar in appearance to Whimbrels, Eskimo Curlews are slightly smaller, but also have a short, black bill, which may show red at the base of the lower mandible and a dark lore which reaches the base of the bill. Unlike Whimbrels and Long-billed CurleWingspan, their long wings extend well beyond the tip of the tail. Characteristics to look for include cinnamon colored underwings, unbarred primaries, chevron marks on the sides and an indistinct crown stripe.
L: 6 3/4-8" Wingspan: 16 3/4-19 1/4"
Breeding in Siberia and wintering in the South Pacific, this species resembles Pectoral Sandpipers. They are differentiated by greenish legs, shorter and darker bill, shorter legs, black-streaked rufous cap, white eye ring, dark loral stripe and white supercilium. The breast lacks the distinct demarcation as seen in Pectoral Sandpipers. Single birds have been observed in several areas across the Great Plains.
L: 7 1/4-7 1/2" Wingspan: 16 3/4-18 1/2"
This Old World species has been documented in several areas within the Great Plains. It is similar in shape and size to Dunlins. Curlew Sandpipers may also be misidentified as Stilt Sandpipers which are larger with green-yellow legs. The red breeding coloration also suggests Red Knots, Red Phalaropes or dowitchers so look for long, decurved bills and daintier physiques.
L: females: 7 3/4-9 3/4" males: 10 1/4-12" Wingspan: 19 1/4-23 1/4"
This species shows sexual dimorphism in both size and plumage. Males are dove-sized and females (called reeves) are almost robin-sized. Breeding males show plumage variations with different body color and head tufts, ruffs and loss of feathers around the face. Like grouse, they form leks, communal areas where males compete for females through intricate displays. Juveniles, females and birds in nonbreeding plumage are similar to smaller Buffbreasted and Pectoral sandpipers. In flight, look for a distinctive V-shaped white rump patch on Ruffs. They have been seen at several locations in the Great Plains.