Shorebirds © Brenda Callaway


Shorebirds often chase along the shoreline edges where receding waves lap the sand. Our shorebirds are divided into two basic types, Sandpipers and Plovers. Both families of shorebirds nesting on Pensacola Beach have precocial young – chicks that are active and mobile upon hatching. These tiny fluffs of birds are camouflaged in sand-colored tones with flecks of brown and black, making them difficult to see and easy to step on, so you will often see nesting areas roped off during nesting season. Our shorebirds feed primarily on marine worms, crustaceans and snails.

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Sandpipers are shorebirds with thin bills used for probing. Some are only 6″ long while others may be much larger. Sanderlings are our most common small sandpiper and will run ahead of you as you walk the beach with your toes in the shallow surf. The sanderling will pick up and eat small littoral invertebrates like sand fleas and tiny ghost crabs. A larger sandpiper found along the edges of salt water is the Willet. Its gray body seems drab until it takes flight, flashing a bold white stripe down dark wings. The longer and stronger bill of the Willet allows it to probe deeper in the wet sand for even larger invertebrates.

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Willet © David Sparks

The Ruddy Turnstone sports bold plumage patterned with brown, rufous, black and white accented by red-orange legs. It uses its short upturned bill to flip over shells and seaweed snaring invertebrates. In winter the most common shorebird is the arctic-breeding Dunlin, with a strong and slightly decurved bill. In winter it has drab gray upperparts contrasting with a lighter underside. Dunlin are most often found in flocks.

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Ruddy Turnstone © Perry Doggrell

Several small Plovers are found on the beaches. The Snowy Plover nests on the Gulf side in shallow scrapes well above the highest tides. Although uncommon, it can be found throughout the year. With precariously low numbers, in Florida the Snowy Plover is listed as a threatened species. Wilson’s Plover also breeds locally in areas similar to the Snowy’s nesting choice, but more frequently near the bay or Sound.


Snowy Plover

Piping and Semi-palmated Plovers also ply the shorelines, but more often on the Sound or bayside beaches, and they do not nest here. The piping plover is also a threatened species, and is heartily studied. You may see one of these sporting several colored leg bands that tell scientists where they bred and help track their wintering movements so habitats can be preserved. The larger Black-bellied Plover is most common in migration and in winter. Its belly is black during breeding season. Plovers all have thick, stubby bills unlike the thin bills of sandpipers.

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Black-bellied Plover © Perry Doggrell

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