Many people have a hard time identifying shorebirds simply by sight. If you see shorebirds foraging, you can usually tell species apart simply by their behaviors. Here are some common shorebirds and their habits:
Long-billed Curlew: Walks around and runs when sees prey. Uses its extremely long bill to probe into the burrows and holes of crabs and other small burrowing animals to try and reach them. Forage in higher-tidal areas usually.
Marbled Godwits-Small flocks. Follow a receding tide. Forage in shallow water by sticking their bill in the water repetitively in spots they think they will be most likely to find prey.
Ruddy Turnstones-Small, strong bodies allow them to hobble around and use their small bills to flip things over on the beach looking for food underneath.
Western Sandpipers and Red Knots-Peck and probe into the surface of the ground very fast or move bills through wet sand. Almost never see what they catch. Very rapid foraging.
Piping, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers-Run quickly to something they see on the surface and eat it before stopping and surveying. Sometimes stop and wiggle their feet on the ground in hopes of stirring up prey.
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs-Forage by finding prey on the surface by sight or swiping their bill back and forth to search for prey.
Western and Eastern Willets-Forage at day and night. Majority of their food comes from surface, sometimes probe in sand or mudflats or search for crabs on rocky shorelines.
Whimbrel-Spots things visuall and uses its long, decurved bill to probe for food.
Spotted Sandpipers-Found along stream banks and lake edges walking along and quicly darting at prey. Most distinctive behavior is almost constant, smooth bobbing of the tail.
Sanderling-Forages by pecking and probing into ground. Plays around on the shore by running up when the waves receed and running away from the incoming waves. Often seen spread out along the shore or in large flocks.
Short-billed and Long-billed Dowhitchers-Probe into soft ground up to their head in a sewing machine fashion and swallow food under ground. Sometimes stick their head all the way under ground. Will forage in water all the way up to the belly. Long-billed Dowhitcher is usually found in freshwater marsh and Short-billed are usually found in saltwater marsh.
Purple Sandpipers-Sometimes is found feeding on the beach, but is almost always found near jetties or rocks looking for prey.
Dunlin-Use sewing machine feeding style as well.
Least Sandpipers-Pick at food on the surface typicaly on the upper edge of mudflats.
Wilson’s Snipe-Probes in soft soil or mud and is typically found in wet grassy areas.