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All 52 Shorebirds in Connecticut

shorebirds in connecticut
Piping Plover and chick, one of Connecticut’s many shorebird species: Photo by Matthew Bode


Shorebirds – plovers, sandpipers, stilts, redshanks, yellowlegs, and more – can be really tough to identify. They often have similar-looking features, particularly outside of the breeding seasons, and to make matters worse, often tend to hang out in mixed-species groups! The shorebirds in Connecticut are no exception to this tricky ID problem, but hopefully we can ease that burden a bit today. This article covers all of the waders belonging to the families Recurvirostridae, Haematopodidae, Charadriidae, and Scolopacidae that occur (or have ever occured) in Connecticut. Read on to learn how to differentiate and identify all these shorebirds in Connecticut.

Shorebirds in Connecticut

Jump to a species!

Recurvirostridae – Stilts and Avocets

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: A shorebird of considerable height yet with a compact body, boasting remarkably lengthy legs, an elongated neck, diminutive head, and a slender, straight bill. Exhibiting a black upper plumage contrasted with a white underbelly, complemented by white markings around the eye and legs tinged with rosy pink. In females and juveniles, the black tones may appear somewhat brownish. This species is smaller than a Willet and larger than a Lesser Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: Black-necked Stilts often venture into shallow waters, where they rarely swim, instead foraging for minuscule aquatic invertebrates. When adults safeguard their nests or offspring, they take to the air, emitting loud calls and occasionally executing a deceptive maneuver, simulating injury to divert attention.
  • Habitat: Black-necked Stilts are typically observed in close proximity to shallow bodies of water, ranging from saltwater to freshwater environments, with a preference for habitats like mudflats, salt pans, salt marshes, and various human-altered landscapes such as sewage ponds, evaporation pools, and inundated fields.
  • Range: A fairly uncommon and irregular species that can be found mostly in the summer months, along Connecticut’s Long Island Sound coast.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

  • Features: A sizable, slim shorebird characterized by a lengthy, upturned bill, an elongated neck, and a rounded head. Its oval-shaped body perches atop elongated legs. During the breeding season, it boasts a stylish rusty hue on its head and neck, which transitions to a grayish-white shade post-breeding. Adorned with a black patch on the back and black-and-white wings accentuating its predominantly white plumage. Its legs sport a bluish-gray tint. This species is larger than the similar-looking Black-necked Stilt.
  • Behavior: It traverses shallow waters, swaying its bill from side to side in search of aquatic invertebrates. Frequently, it shakes its foot with each step to dislodge mud.
  • Habitat: Encountered in various wetland habitats, encompassing shallow freshwater and saltwater wetlands, salt ponds, impoundments, and evaporation ponds. It forages in open waters typically less than 8 inches in depth. During the winter, it also frequents intertidal mudflats, tidal lagoons, brackish impoundments, sewage ponds, rice fields, and inundated pastures.
  • Range: This bird is more regular further west in the United States and is an uncommon resident in Connecticut.

Haematopodidae – Oystercatchers

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)

  • Features: A substantial, sturdy shorebird sporting a lengthy, robust bill, a sizable head, sturdy neck, and elongated, thick legs. American Oystercatchers may appear black-and-white from afar, featuring a vivid orange-red bill. Upon closer inspection, their back and wings exhibit brown hues, while they sport a black head and breast, white underparts, a yellow eye, and a red eyering. During flight, observe the distinctive white wingbar and white base of the tail. This species surpasses the Willet in size.
  • Behavior: American Oystercatchers explore sandy and rocky terrain in search of clams, oysters, and various mollusks, employing cutting or smashing techniques to access their prey. During high tide, a significant portion of their day is devoted to resting in roosts. They exhibit remarkable vigor and emit loud calls during courtship rituals, territorial disputes, and encounters with intruders.
  • Habitat: Barrier islands and shorelines, salt marshlands, and shellfish beds.
  • Range: Oystercatchers are very common shorebirds all along Connecticut’s coast, particularly so in the summer months.

Charadriidae – Plovers and Lapwings

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

  • Features: A robust, large-headed shorebird with a short, stout bill (bulkier than that of golden-plovers). It possesses elongated, pointed wings and moderately lengthy legs. During the breeding season, males exhibit a striking combination of black and white plumage: checkered upper wings, a black face and belly, a white crown, nape, and undertail, along with dark legs and bill. Breeding females resemble males but with slightly less contrast. Nonbreeding adults sport a pale gray upper plumage and grayish or whitish underparts. Juveniles display a more scaly appearance on the back. Regardless of plumage, all stages feature black “armpits” in flight. This species is larger than an American Golden Plover but smaller than a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: It hunts by swiftly walking, pausing abruptly to scan for prey, which it either gleans or pulls from the ground. During the breeding season, males execute a graceful “butterfly” display flight. Migratory and wintering individuals gather in flocks for rest and foraging.
  • Habitat: Breeds in both wet and dry tundra habitats, while spending winters in coastal lagoons and estuaries. Migratory individuals make stops along coastlines and in harvested agricultural regions, sod farms, and muddy areas bordering lakes and rivers.
  • Range: Grey Plovers are fairly common shorebirds in Connecticut. They tend to breed further north and are most common in the state during winter, but some are resident year-round.

American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica)

  • Features: A medium-sized shorebird characterized by a sizable head, slender neck, elongated pointed wings, and relatively lengthy legs. The bill is short, slender, and straight. During the breeding season, individuals exhibit gold-spangled upper plumage and blackish underparts, with a white “scarf” extending from the brow to the sides of the breast. Juveniles and non-breeding adults retain some gold tones above but appear dingy grayish below. This species is larger than a Killdeer and slightly smaller than a Grey Plover.
  • Behavior: American Golden Plovers hunt in the characteristic manner of plovers, dashing along and abruptly halting to search for or capture prey. During migration and while wintering, they congregate in flocks. Their flight is swift and straightforward.
  • Habitat: Scorched, plowed, and harvested agricultural fields, pasturelands, sod farms, estuaries, mudflats, prairies, and tundra habitats.
  • Range: Regular and uncommon in Connecticut, this species occurs mostly at the coast, with some found at wetlands further inland and is best observed in September and October.

Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

  • Features: A medium-sized shorebird with an erect stance, featuring a rather large head, slender neck, long wings, and relatively lengthy legs. During the breeding season, adults display gold-spangled upper plumage, blackish underparts, and a white “scarf” extending from the brow to the flanks. In nonbreeding plumage, adults exhibit prominent gold hues above and appear dingy grayish below. Juveniles showcase rich gold upper plumage, mottled grayish underparts, and a gold-toned face. This species is larger than a Killdeer, less robust, and slightly smaller than a Grey Plover.
  • Behavior: Pacific Golden Plovers hunt in the traditional plover manner, darting along and abruptly pausing to search for or capture prey; they also excavate small pits to uncover prey. During migration and while wintering, they gather in flocks. Males sing and execute elegant aerial displays on their breeding grounds.
  • Habitat: Breeds on tundra habitats, occasionally nesting in elevated, drier tundra found in mountainous regions, but typically preferring lower slopes with dwarf shrubs or sedges. Migratory and wintering individuals utilize a variety of habitats including agricultural fields, lawns, parks, pastures, sod farms, estuaries, mudflats, salt marshes, beaches, and mangrove forests.
  • Range: Only known from a singular bird that was observed at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Fairfield in October 2020.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

  • Features: Killdeer possess the typical features of plovers, including a large, round head, prominent eye, and short bill. They are notably slender and rangy, sporting a lengthy, pointed tail and long wings. Their upper plumage is brownish-tan, while their underparts are white. The white chest is adorned with two black bands, and the brown face displays black and white patches. In flight, the bright orange-buff rump is easily noticeable.
  • Behavior: Killdeer typically spend their time strolling or briefly dashing forward, pausing intermittently to survey their surroundings before resuming their movement. When startled, they take flight and circle overhead while emitting repeated calls. Their flight is swift, characterized by stiff, sporadic wingbeats.
  • Habitat: Search for Killdeer in areas of open ground with sparse or absent vegetation, such as lawns, golf courses, driveways, parking lots, and gravel-covered roofs. They can also be found in pastures, fields, sandbars, and mudflats. This species is among the shorebirds least associated with water.
  • Range: Killdeer are very common and widespread throughout the whole state.

Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

  • Features: The male exhibits a slightly wider breastband, a larger white supercilium, and a more distinct yellow eyering. Females display a breastband and ear-coverts with brown tinges on the sides. The nominate race lacks a distinct non-breeding plumage. Juveniles resemble pale adults with buffy fringes initially, but these fringes are quickly lost. They lack black markings and have a narrow or broken frontal portion of the breastband.
  • Behavior: They eat small crustaceans, mollusks, worms, isopods, amphipods, various insects (like ants, beetles, flies, and their larvae), and millipedes.
  • Habitat: Found along the coast on sandy or gravelly beaches, sandbanks, and mudflats, as well as in estuaries. Occasionally, they can be seen in rivers, lakes, lagoons, salt marshes, short grasslands, flooded fields, and certain man-made environments like gravel pits, reservoirs, farmlands, and playing fields.
  • Range: A very rare vagrant – one record for Connecticut from Hammonasset Beach in 2020.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

  • Features: This small shorebird has a compact build, featuring a short, stubby bill, a rounded head, and large eyes. Its body is plump, with a short neck and medium-length legs. Adults display brown upper plumage and white underparts, with a single black band across the breast. They have black markings around the eyes, with white patches above the eyes and bill, along with a white band above the black collar. The short bill is orange with a black tip. Juveniles have brown facial markings instead of black and sometimes an incomplete brown breast band. Their legs are yellow-orange. This species is larger than a Least Sandpiper but smaller than a Killdeer.
  • Behavior: Semipalmated Plovers rely on their vision to hunt. They dash forward a few steps, pause, and then swiftly lunge at prey on the ground, either grabbing smaller prey or tugging at worms similar to how robins feed.
  • Habitat: Breeds in the Arctic tundra. Feeds in mudflats, agricultural fields, riverbanks, sewage ponds, and lake shores. Rests in marshes or on beaches.
  • Range: Fairly regular summer visitors all over the state where suitable habitat is present.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

  • Features: Piping Plovers are compact and sturdy little birds often seen standing horizontally. They have rounded heads and large, dark eyes, giving them a wide-eyed appearance. Their bill is short and stubby. Sandy grayish-brown in color, they have white underparts and a narrow, sometimes interrupted collar. Their legs are yellowish-orange year-round. During the breeding season, they sport an orange bill with a black tip, along with a black collar and forehead line. In the nonbreeding season, the bill turns black, and the collar fades to gray, not fully encircling the breast. This species is larger than a Least Sandpiper but smaller than a Grey Plover.
  • Behavior: Piping Plovers are often hard to spot until they dash a short distance, pause, and then lean forward to extract insects or worms from the soft sand. They typically feed alone or in small groups, preferring the upper sections of the shoreline compared to other shorebirds.
  • Habitat: Piping Plovers breed on ocean shores in the Northeast and along lakeshores and alkali wetlands in the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes regions. They build their nests above the high water mark in soft sandy areas with limited vegetation. During winter, they inhabit coastal beaches, sandflats, and mudflats.
  • Range: A fairly common summer shorebird in Connecticut, generally restricted to the coast.

Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

  • Features: With shiny green upperparts, a blackish crest, and bronze scapulars, this bird boasts very wide wings, especially noticeable in breeding males. The female has a less distinct head pattern and white specks on the throat. In non-breeding adults, the face is buff-colored, the crest is shorter, and the chin and throat are white; the upperwing-coverts and scapulars have buff edges. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but with more extensive buff edges to their feathers and a narrower, browner breastband.
  • Behavior: It primarily feeds on invertebrates, such as earthworms and insects, including beetle larvae and adults, ants, flies, moths, and crickets, as well as spiders and snails. It finds its prey by sight and sound, often while walking or running and occasionally stopping to probe the ground. It also commonly feeds by trembling its feet. This bird is active both during the day and at night.
  • Habitat: Breeds in a range of open habitats with short vegetation or bare ground, such as wetlands, heaths, moors, arable and cereal fields, meadows, and hayfields, often alongside other wading birds.
  • Range: Only known in Connecticut from two occasions: One bird at the Audubon center at Milford Point in 2021 and another bird seen around the University of Connecticut in Storrs in 2010.

Wilson’s Plover (Anarhynchus wilsonia)

  • Features: A robust, medium-sized shorebird with a substantial bill for a plover. It boasts moderately long legs, large eyes, and a relatively large head. During the breeding season, adults exhibit medium-brown upper plumage and white underparts, with a single breast band that is blackish in males or brownish in females. Above this band is a white partial collar, along with a white stripe extending over the eye to the bill. Some males may display a hint of cinnamon coloration at the rear of the face. Nonbreeding males resemble females more closely, as the black plumage is replaced by brown. Juveniles resemble nonbreeding adults but appear paler and more scaly. This species is larger than a Semipalmated Plover but smaller than a Killdeer.
  • Behavior: Wilson’s Plovers primarily feed on fiddler crabs, hunting them during both day and night. They observe their prey, then dash after them, lunging to extract them with their sturdy bills. They frequently shake the crabs to remove their legs. Sometimes, they forage in loose flocks consisting of several families.
  • Habitat: They nest on sandy, shelly, or gravelly beaches above the high tide line. Their main foraging grounds are mudflats, where they primarily hunt fiddler crabs, but they also occasionally forage in sandy habitats, impoundments, and salt flats.
  • Range: Very rare in Connecticut with only a handful of records, most recently from Milford Point in 2018.

Snowy Plover (Anarhynchus nivosus)

  • Features: A petite, rounded shorebird with a sizable head, a short, slim bill, and a brief tail. Its legs are of medium length compared to other shorebirds. Adult Snowy Plovers have a pale sandy-brown upper plumage and white underparts. During the summer, they feature black patches behind the eye and on the front of the crown, along with a partial black collar across the breast. In nonbreeding plumage, they appear sandy gray, lacking black facial patches and with a brown partial collar. They have black bills and gray legs. This species is smaller than a Semipalmated Plover but larger than a Least Sandpiper.
  • Behavior: It hunts in open, sandy terrain, walking and running while frequently pausing suddenly to capture prey from the ground.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, it nests on sparsely vegetated sandy beaches and dry salt flats. In winter, it is primarily found on sandy beaches.
  • Range: Vagrant to Connecticut. There was a single bird hanging around New Haven for about a month in 2004.

Scolopacidae – Sandpipers and Allies

Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)

  • Features: This shorebird has distinctive proportions, including long legs, a slender neck, a small head resembling a dove’s, large eyes, and a thin, straight bill. Its tail and wings are elongated. Both adults and juveniles display marbled golden-brown and blackish plumage on top. They are white underneath, adorned with dark streaks and chevron-shaped markings on the breast and sides. Their throat is white, and they have a white eyering. This species is larger than a Lesser Yellowlegs but slightly smaller than a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: It hunts by briskly walking through shortgrass areas, collecting invertebrates and seeds from the ground and vegetation. During the breeding season, males often perch on fence posts and perform elegant circular song flights over their territory, sometimes joined by females. During migration, they travel in groups at night, frequently communicating with each other through calls.
  • Habitat: It breeds in various grassland habitats such as native prairies, croplands, pasturelands, mountain meadows, and dry tundra. During migration, it swiftly travels to wintering areas in South American grasslands known as pampas and llanos, which resemble its nesting habitat. Along the way, migrants frequently pause in agricultural fields.
  • Range: Upland Sandpipers are very uncommon summer visitors to Connecticut, mostly found along the coast, but also seen occasionally further inland.

Hudsonian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

  • Features: This sturdy, sizable shorebird features a remarkably long, curved bill and relatively lengthy neck and legs. It boasts long, pointed wings and a short tail. Its upper plumage is predominantly brownish with pale feather edges, while its underparts are tan with tidy dark stippling. The crown exhibits dark brown coloration with a pale central stripe, and many individuals display a narrow dark eyeline. It is larger than a Willet but smaller than a Long-billed Curlew.
  • Behavior: Whimbrels use their long bills to probe mudflats or wet sand for invertebrates like crabs, moving slowly through shallow water. During migration or when traveling between roosting and feeding spots, flocks frequently vocalize. Males sing and perform displays on and above nesting territories in the Arctic, often emitting loud calls when detecting predators or intruders.
  • Habitat: During the nesting season, they inhabit the Arctic tundra. In migration and winter, they can be found in salt marshes, mudflats, beaches, and small islands. Occasionally, they may be grounded by storms and seek refuge inland in farm fields, airports, lakeshores, or other open areas.
  • Range: Breeding in the Arctic, these birds are only rare summer residents in Connecticut, most common along the coast in August and September.

Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) (Historical)

  • Features: This little-known, critically endangered bird is the smallest and most social of the four Numenius curlews found in the Western Hemisphere. It has a relatively short, slim, slightly curved bill. Males and females look alike in plumage, but females are generally larger on average. Its overall appearance is typical of Numeniini birds. During breeding season, its upperparts are dark grayish-brown to black, with feathers edged and marked with brownish buff. The underparts are washed with a cinnamon to buff color, especially on the wing linings. The primaries are dark and unmarked, with little to no stripe on the crown and a faint line above the eye. The tarsal scutes have a reticulated pattern. In non-breeding season, its plumage is similar but with deeper and richer colors.
  • Behavior: Mainly found on land. When feeding, it’s observed to either walk or run, especially when feeding in groups on ericaceous fruits. Similar to other related species during breeding, the Eskimo Curlew may also perch on low bushes.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Eskimo Curlews prefer treeless tundra regions in the Arctic and subarctic areas of Canada, possibly extending to Alaska. Known breeding sites include the “Barrens” of Northwest Territories and the shores of Point Lake, east of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories. These areas consist of treeless landscapes with dwarf shrubs, grasses, and sedges. Despite similar habitats in Alaska and Chukotka, where birds are reported during the breeding season, no confirmed breeding has been recorded elsewhere. During migration, Eskimo Curlews settle predominantly on tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies where they feed on grasses and forbs. Before extensive human settlement, they favored areas burned by natural fires or along riparian corridors. Later, they were noted feeding in cultivated fields, tilled fields, and pasturelands. During fall migration, they use a variety of terrestrial and coastal habitats.
  • Range: There are two historical records for this critically endangered, possibly extinct, species in Connecticut. One from Saybrook in 1874 and the other from a marsh in New Haven in 1889. So, needless to say, don’t bet on seeing an Eskimo Curlew in Connecticut – or anywhere, really.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

  • Features: This shorebird is sizable with long legs and a notably long, slender curved bill. It boasts a robust, football-shaped body, a lengthy neck, and a small, round head. Its upper plumage is speckled and barred in shades of brown with a light cinnamon hue throughout, while its belly is plain cinnamon. The head and neck exhibit pale coloring with faint streaks, and the lower bill shows a pinkish hue at the base. During flight, both the upper and lower wings display a strong cinnamon coloration.
  • Behavior: It hunts for earthworms, shrimp, and crabs by probing into soft, muddy substrates with its long, curved bill. In drier grassland areas, it pecks at insects. It walks with a distinctive strut, pushing its head forward with jerky steps.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, it nests in regions with sparse, short grasses, such as shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies, along with agricultural fields. Outside of breeding season, it can be found in wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields less than 6 inches deep, and beaches.
  • Range: Vagrant to Connecticut. There was an individual bird seen in Windham in 1995, plus a more recent record from the same location in 2006.

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

  • Features: This shorebird is sizable, with long legs and a very long, tapering bill that curves upwards. Its wings are long with a consistent pattern, and its tail is barred. The legs are greenish-gray, while the bill is black towards the tip and pink towards the base.
  • Behavior: During the breeding season, it inhabits lowland scrub tundra, forest tundra, rolling uplands, wet river valleys, and open larch woodland near water bodies. After breeding, it primarily resides in intertidal areas, particularly sandy sections of estuaries, inlets, mangrove-fringed lagoons, and sheltered bays. Occasionally, it can be found in inland wetlands and short-grass meadows.
  • Habitat: Diet changes with the season. Primarily feeds on invertebrates like marine mollusks, crustaceans, and worms outside of the breeding season, while during breeding, it consumes insects, spiders, and berries.
  • Range: Vagrant known in Connecticut only from a single record in 2001 from a beach in Old Saybrook, Middlesex.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

  • Features: This godwit is tall and elegant, with a chestnut-colored breast and upper belly. Its belly has dark brown barring, while the lower belly is white. The mantle and scapulars are blotched with pale red, black, and grey. It has a long, straight-ish bill that is orange-pink at the base, and long legs. Variable numbers of brownish-grey feathers in the upperparts give it an untidy, half-molted appearance.
  • Behavior: It mostly eats invertebrates, especially insects and their larvae like beetles, annelids, mollusks, ragworms, crustaceans, spiders, fish eggs, and tadpoles. It also consumes plant material such as berries, seeds, and rice, especially during winter. It feeds by picking and using forward-angled, prolonged probes, finding food by touch or sight. Sometimes it shakes its feet to disturb prey and may wash its food. It often feeds together in winter and during migration, using communal night-time roosts in shallow water. Chicks in pastures actively feed on moving prey in tall vegetation.
  • Habitat: It inhabits wet grasslands with moderately high grass and soft soil in lowland areas, along with grassy marshlands, raised bogs, moorlands, reclaimed areas, and damp grassy depressions in steppe regions. During winter, it can be found in sheltered estuaries and lagoons with large intertidal mudflats, sandy beaches, salt marshes, salt flats, and inland wetlands, including swampy lake shores, river pools, flooded grasslands, and irrigated rice fields.
  • Range: There were two separate observations of this species in Connecticut in 2001, one at the Audubon center at Milford Point and the other from Harkness Memorial State Park – they were most likely the same individual.

Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica)

  • Features: This is a large, dignified shorebird with long legs, a long neck, and a very long, slightly curved bill. During breeding, adults have a striking pattern of black, brown, and gold above, with rich chestnut and dark barring below. Females are not as brightly colored as males. Outside of breeding season, adults are gray-brown above and paler brownish below. Juveniles resemble nonbreeding adults but appear more scaly above due to pale edges on their feathers. Regardless of plumage, the bill has a pale pinkish or orange base with a dark tip. The tail is white with a broad black band at the tip. The underwing has blackish axillary feathers, and a narrow white stripe is visible on the upperwing. It is larger than a Willet but smaller than a Marbled Godwit.
  • Behavior: It walks through shallow water and searches for invertebrates in soft soil or mud, in both tidal areas and freshwater habitats. It commonly rests and feeds in groups with other types of shorebirds, where it stands out as one of the largest species.
  • Habitat: It breeds in marshes and bogs in freshwater tundra habitats, while in winter it resides in coastal lagoons, marshes, and along ocean coasts. During migration, it can be found in various wetlands, including those inland, away from the sea.
  • Range: Hudsonian Godwits are quite rare visitors in Connecticut with infrequent records along the coast (and a few from further inland), increasingly in the past 10-15 years.

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

  • Features: This is a large shorebird with long legs and an extremely long, slightly upturned bill. It has a small, round head on a thin neck. During breeding, it’s barred above and below in brown, white, and cinnamon hues. In the nonbreeding season, it looks similar but has unbarred cinnamon-washed underparts. In flight, you can see cinnamon underwings year-round. Its bill is two-toned, black at the tip and orange at the base during breeding, or pink during the nonbreeding season. It’s larger than a Willet but smaller than a Long-billed Curlew.
  • Behavior: It uses its long bill to probe into sand or mud for aquatic invertebrates. Sometimes, it walks while probing or takes a few steps before burying its bill into the mud. Outside of the breeding season, it’s social, often foraging in groups alongside Willets, Whimbrels, and Long-billed Curlews.
  • Habitat: Breeds in shortgrass prairies near wetlands. During migration and in winter, it’s found in various habitats like mudflats, salt ponds, beaches, estuaries, and wetlands.
  • Range: Another very unusual visitor to Connecticut, seen only rarely along the coast.

Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)

  • Features: A stout, medium-sized shorebird with a long, straight bill and moderately long legs. Breeding adults display brown, black, and gold upperparts and are pale orange with darker speckles below (colors restricted to the neck and upper breast in eastern subspecies). Nonbreeding adults appear quite plain, with grayish-brown upperparts and pale underparts, with some speckles on the breast and sides. Juveniles in new plumage exhibit an orange breast and dark feathers with distinctive gold edges above. This bird is larger than a Lesser Yellowlegs but smaller than a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: In saltwater areas, Short-billed Dowitchers feed most actively during the changing tides, swiftly probing mudflats with their long bills in a sewing-machine-like motion. When tides are at their highest and lowest points, they rest and groom together in groups. During the breeding season, males perform elegant song-flights over their territories.
  • Habitat: Breeds in wetlands near the northern tree line. Spends winters mainly in estuaries and coastal lagoons. During migration, they use a variety of wetlands with shallow water, including both freshwater and saltwater habitats, as well as flooded fields and sewage ponds.
  • Range: Uncommon in Connecticut between May and September, mostly along the coast.

Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

  • Features: A medium-sized shorebird with a plump body, long bill, and relatively long legs. During breeding season, adults have black, gold, and rufous upperparts with reddish underparts marked with dark patterns. In nonbreeding season, they appear grayish above and on the breast, with a lighter belly. Juveniles have blackish back feathers edged in rusty tones. All variations display a long pale eyebrow and a white back between the wings. Similar in size (except the bill, of course) to the Short-billed Dowitcher.
  • Behavior: Long-billed Dowitchers use their long bills to probe deeply into mud or sand, moving up and down like a sewing machine needle. They typically forage in water less than about 3 inches deep. During breeding season, males sing while flying high above their territory.
  • Habitat: Breeds in wet sedge meadows with small ponds in lowland tundra and foothills. During migration and in winter, it frequents ponds, marshes, sewage treatment facilities, and other freshwater areas, occasionally venturing into estuaries, rivers, and tidal flats.
  • Range: A rare vagrant to Connecticut, most often seen during the winter months.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

  • Features: American Woodcocks are robust, short-legged shorebirds with elongated, straight bills. Their sizable heads, compact necks, and abbreviated tails contribute to their rounded appearance both on land and in flight. Unlike many other shorebirds, their wings are wide and rounded. They blend well into their surroundings with a mixture of light brown, black, buff, and gray-brown hues. Their faces have a buffy tone, while the crown is darker blackish. Their upper bodies exhibit a light gray coloration, adorned with contrasting dark-and-light patterned shoulders and brown wings. The lower parts range from buffy to nearly orange. They are larger and more robust than Killdeer.
  • Behavior: American Woodcocks prefer concealed habitats like fields and forest floors, where they search for earthworms by probing the soil. They have a distinctive walking behavior, often swaying back and forth as they move. During spring evenings, males engage in prominent displays, emitting a buzzy “peent” call before soaring into the air. Their flight is characterized by erratic movements and a unique twittering sound, culminating in a sharp dive back to the ground.
  • Habitat: Search for American Woodcock in wooded areas, forest borders, abandoned fields, and damp meadows across the eastern region of North America.
  • Range: These birds are regular all over Connecticut but are very well-camouflaged and hard to observe.

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

  • Features: Wilson’s Snipes are medium-sized shorebirds with compact bodies and sturdy legs. They have a straight, elongated bill, several times the length of their head. Their rounded head and short tail contribute to their stout appearance. These birds feature intricate buff and brown patterns, with prominent buffy to whitish stripes on their dark heads. Their backs display three long buffy streaks, while their chests are streaked and spotted with brown, and their sides are heavily barred with black. During flight, their wings appear dark both above and below. Wilson’s Snipes are similar in size to Killdeers, but they have a more robust build and less slender appearance.
  • Behavior: Wilson’s Snipes search for food by carefully probing muddy ground for earthworms and other invertebrates. Their probing motion resembles the slow movement of a sewing machine needle. Typically, they remain still until suddenly flushing from their hiding spots near your feet, darting off in rapid zigzag patterns. During courtship displays, males soar high into the sky, emitting a distinctive whistling sound known as “winnowing,” produced by air passing over their modified outer tail feathers.
  • Habitat: Wilson’s Snipe inhabit muddy pond edges, damp fields, and similar wet, open environments. These areas often feature dense, low vegetation, providing ample cover for these birds to blend in effectively.
  • Range: Not uncommon all over the state, but spend summers further north, so they are best seen in migration months.

Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)

  • Features: Wilson’s Phalaropes are petite shorebirds characterized by long legs, slender necks, and thin, straight bills. Their wings are pointed sharply. These birds sport a grayish hue with cinnamon or rusty accents, particularly on the neck. During breeding, females exhibit more vibrant colors than males, featuring a dark line extending from the eye down the neck. They have a white throat and a rusty wash on the neck. Nonbreeding individuals are pale gray above and white below, lacking the pronounced facial markings seen in other phalarope species. They are larger than a Least Sandpiper but smaller than a Killdeer.
  • Behavior: Phalaropes are unique among shorebirds for their ability to swim in deep water. They float on the surface, sometimes spinning in circles to bring small food items within reach of their slender bills.
  • Habitat: Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in the marshes of the Great Plains and the intermountain West. During winter, they migrate to South America, often found on high lakes in the Andes. During migration, large gatherings of these birds can be seen on salty lakes and coastal marshes in the western regions.
  • Range: Most common in western North America, Connecticut gets the rare summer visitor at the coast.

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

  • Features: Red Phalaropes are small shorebirds, but they are the largest and stockiest of the phalarope species. They have a relatively short, thick neck and a noticeably thicker bill compared to the other phalarope species. Breeding females sport bright reddish-cinnamon plumage, while males display a duller orange-red hue. Both sexes have a white cheek, black crown, and yellow bill during breeding. In nonbreeding plumage, they are smooth gray above and white below with a black eye patch. Juveniles feature buffy tones. They are larger than a Red-necked Phalarope but smaller than a Red Knot.
  • Behavior: Like other phalaropes, this species swims on the water’s surface, feeding on invertebrates. It is typically seen in small groups but can form larger flocks and often associates with Red-necked Phalaropes.
  • Habitat: Nests on the Arctic tundra and migrates to winter in oceanic regions. Seldom observed in inland areas.
  • Range: Only a couple dozen scattered records of this species across the state.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

  • Features: A petite, delicate shorebird that floats high on the water. It features a slender neck and a thin, pointed bill. Females are more vividly colored than males. Breeding adults display a white throat, a reddish neck patch, and a gray body with buffy wing markings. Nonbreeding birds are gray on top and white underneath, with a streaked back and a black ear patch. Larger than a Least Sandpiper, but slightly smaller than a Red Phalarope.
  • Behavior: It feeds by rapidly spinning in circles, which brings invertebrates to the water’s surface for consumption. Typically found in small groups, but can form massive flocks, especially during fall migration. Sometimes seen alongside the similar but larger, thicker-billed Red Phalarope.
  • Habitat: Breeds on the Arctic tundra, migrates over land or ocean, and spends winters at sea.
  • Range: A rare visitor to Connecticut, this species only has scattered records around the state.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

  • Features: The Spotted Sandpiper is a medium-sized shorebird with a bill that is slightly shorter than its head and a body that narrows down to a long tail. They have a rounded chest and often appear to be leaning forward. During breeding season, Spotted Sandpipers feature prominent dark spots on their bright white chest and have an orange bill, while their back is dark brown. In winter, their chest is plain white without spots, their back is gray-brown, and their bill turns pale yellow. In flight, they show a thin white stripe along the wing. They are slightly smaller than a Killdeer.
  • Behavior: Spotted Sandpipers are often found alone and move with a characteristic teetering motion, constantly bobbing their tails up and down. When searching for food, they move swiftly, crouching low and sometimes quickly lunging toward their prey while still bobbing their tail. In flight, Spotted Sandpipers flap their wings rapidly in short bursts and glide in between, keeping their wings below the horizontal plane. As they lift off from the shoreline, you might hear a series of high-pitched whistles.
  • Habitat: You can find Spotted Sandpipers in various watery habitats such as streambanks, rivers, ponds, lakes, and beaches, especially on rocky coasts. This species is one of the most common breeding shorebirds across the United States and is frequently found near freshwater, even in otherwise dry or forested areas.
  • Range: Common and widespread throughout Connecticut between April and October.

Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)

  • Features: A small, slim shorebird with a relatively long neck and bill. It features moderately long wings and legs. The bird is dark olive-brown on its upperparts with a distinctive white eyering, while its underparts are pale. In breeding plumage, the head and breast are darkly speckled, and the upperparts have a tidy pattern of white spots. In nonbreeding plumage, the back is mainly unspotted, and the breast takes on a brownish wash. The legs are olive in color. In flight, the dark underwings stand out sharply against the white belly. Slightly larger than a Spotted Sandpiper but smaller than a Lesser Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: Solitary Sandpipers search for food in small freshwater wetlands, often in forested areas. They move slowly through shallow water while bobbing their tail feathers. If disturbed, they fly a short distance while calling out, and upon landing, often keep their wings raised briefly.
  • Habitat: Solitary Sandpipers nest in the boggy tundra of the Arctic. During migration and winter, they inhabit a variety of freshwater environments including wooded swamps, riverbanks, bogs, lakes, ponds, ditches, pastures, rice fields, and wet meadows.
  • Range: Common to uncommon visitors to most parts of the state, particularly in May, August, and September.

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

  • Features: The Lesser Yellowlegs is a medium-sized shorebird known for its slender, elegant appearance, long legs, and long neck. Its bill is straight and thin, slightly longer than its head and shorter and straighter than that of a Greater Yellowlegs. Breeding adults are grayish brown with striking yellow legs, fine gray streaking across the head and neck, a white eyering, and white spots on the back and wings. Nonbreeding individuals are more subdued gray-brown with less streaking and spotting. The bill is entirely dark. They are larger than a Dunlin but smaller than a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Behavior: The Lesser Yellowlegs moves gracefully with a high-stepping gait across mudflats and marshes. In flight, it displays a buoyant, relaxed style, with its legs extending beyond its tail.
  • Habitat: Lesser Yellowlegs can be found in wetland environments such as tidal flats, sewage ponds, and flooded fields, often mingling with other shorebird species. They breed in open forests and meadows that include marshes and bogs.
  • Range: Common to uncommon, most frequently along the state’s coast, between April and October.

Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

  • Features: Willets are sizable, sturdy shorebirds with long legs and substantial, straight bills that are significantly longer than the head. Their wings are wider and more rounded compared to many other shorebirds, and they have short, squared tails. Willets are gray or brown birds that, in flight, reveal a bold white and black wing stripe. In summer, Willets exhibit mottled gray, brown, and black plumage, while in winter they are more uniformly plain gray. The legs are bluish gray. They are large shorebirds with a body the size of a pigeon and long legs.
  • Behavior: Willets are typically observed on their own. They walk with intention, stopping to search for crabs, worms, and other prey in sand and mudflats or to forage for insects and mollusks. When alarmed, they emit a sharp call, often spreading their wings and running instead of immediately taking flight.
  • Habitat: In winter, Willets forage on beaches and rocky shores, as well as in mudflats and marshes. During breeding season, western populations travel inland to nest in grasslands and prairies near freshwater, while eastern Willets nest in coastal saltmarshes and on barrier beaches and islands.
  • Range: Willets are fairly common summer visitors along Connecticut’s coast between April and September.

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)

  • Features: A graceful wader with a long neck, legs, and bill, entirely black with white spots on the upperparts and varying amounts of white on the underparts. In flight, it displays a white wedge on the back and white underwing. The female is slightly larger and usually lighter, with white tips on crown feathers and more white fringes on the underparts. Non-breeding adults feature a distinct dark eye stripe and white eyebrow, ash-gray upperparts with white edges, a plain gray breast, and white underparts.
  • Behavior: The diet mainly includes aquatic insects, flying insects, small crustaceans, mollusks, worms, fish, and amphibians. When feeding on fish, these birds may forage in dense flocks or alongside other species. They often feed in water around 20–30 cm deep, and may swim in deeper water. Their feeding techniques include pecking, probing, and sweeping their bills through the water. They typically feed in small flocks but may gather in larger groups or feed alone. They are active feeders both during the day and night.
  • Habitat: Breeds in open wooded tundra, swampy pine, or birch forest close to the treeline, and in open areas such as heathland and shrub tundra. After breeding, they inhabit various freshwater and brackish wetlands, including sewage farms, irrigated rice fields, brackish lagoons, saltmarshes, saltpans, and sheltered muddy coastal shores. Generally, they prefer less marine environments compared to other related species.
  • Range: An extremely rare visitor from Eurasia, with only one record in Connecticut from 1969.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

  • Features: The Greater Yellowlegs is a large, lanky shorebird with very long legs, a long neck, and a thick-based, slightly upturned bill. In breeding plumage, it displays dense, dark bands on the breast and neck. For most of the year, its pattern is more muted: a black-and-white checkerboard speckling on the back, with a finely streaked neck and head. There’s typically some barring on the flanks and a distinct, bright white eyering. The bill is dark, and the legs are bright yellow, sometimes turning orange in spring. It’s about 50% larger than a Lesser Yellowlegs and smaller than a Marbled Godwit.
  • Behavior: The Greater Yellowlegs walks confidently across mudflats and marshes with its characteristic high-stepping motion, sometimes sprinting to catch aquatic prey. It flies with power and speed, with legs extending far past the tail, often calling out its sharp, chirpy sounds.
  • Habitat: The Greater Yellowlegs is found in a diverse range of wetland habitats during migration and winter, including tidal flats, sewage ponds, and flooded fields. Their larger size allows them to use wetlands with taller vegetation, which smaller shorebirds typically avoid. In summer, they breed across the boreal zone in boggy sloughs with small wooded islands and coniferous forests with wet clearings.
  • Range: Greater Yellowlegs can be observed in most of the state throughout the year but are most common between March and October.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

  • Features: The Ruddy Turnstone is a small, robust shorebird with an oval body shape and a sturdy, slightly upturned bill. Breeding males display distinctive black-and-white markings on their head and throat, along with a chestnut and black pattern on their back. Breeding females are lighter than males, while nonbreeding adults exhibit a subdued version of the breeding pattern. Juveniles resemble nonbreeding adults but with rusty feather edges. All Ruddy Turnstones have orange legs, which are more vibrant during the breeding season. In flight, they display a characteristic color pattern of a white stripe down the back, black tail stripe, white rump, and a white wing stripe. They are larger than a Spotted Sandpiper but smaller than a Willet.
  • Behavior: Ruddy Turnstones are known for turning over rocks, pebbles, and seaweed along coastlines to find food. They seldom wade in waters deeper than a few inches, preferring to forage on the shore where the surf brings in shells, rocks, and seaweed. During migration and in their winter habitats, they gather in flocks ranging from 10 to over 1,000 individuals.
  • Habitat: Ruddy Turnstones nest in the tundra of northern North America. Some nonbreeding birds, however, remain along the coastal shores of the lower 48 states throughout the summer. During migration, they frequent freshwater shorelines, mudflats, rocky shores, and sandy beaches. In their winter habitats, they are found in coastal regions with mudflats, sandy beaches, and rocky coasts.
  • Range: Regular but uncommon along Connecticut’s Long Island Sound shores throughout the year.

Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

  • Features: A big, robust sandpiper with a straight, medium-length bill and somewhat short legs. Breeding adults are orange underneath with a detailed mix of gold, buff, rufous, and black on top. Juveniles and nonbreeding adults are brownish gray above and light underneath. The bill is dark, and the legs are dark or greenish. It’s larger than a Dunlin, but a bit smaller than a dowitcher.
  • Behavior: Knots forage by picking and probing for food like other sandpipers, though they may do so more slowly and deliberately than their smaller counterparts. Roosting birds gather in tight groups, sometimes lying down to rest. During breeding season, males exhibit an impressive flight display with trembling wings.
  • Habitat: Knots feed and rest on flat beaches, mudflats, lagoons, and the edges of estuaries. When nesting, they choose dry, upland tundra areas with sparse vegetation.
  • Range: Red Knots are pretty uncommon birds in Connecticut, almost always seen along the coast, slightly more often in the summer months.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax)

  • Features: Males exhibit striking sexual dimorphism with tufted heads and a variable ruff in colors such as buff, chestnut, purple, black, or white, often barred or flecked. Females are smaller and lack the male’s head plumage, with dark upperparts and buff to rufous edges. Non-breeding adults resemble breeding females but are paler, and juveniles have dark brown upperparts with a buff neck and belly. The bill and leg colors vary, with males showing brown to orange bills and yellow-green to dark orange legs, while females have black bills and pinkish-orange to green legs.
  • Behavior: During breeding season, this species primarily feeds on terrestrial and aquatic insects like beetles and flies. Outside breeding season, their diet includes a wider variety of insects, crustaceans, spiders, mollusks, worms, frogs, and small fish. Birds wintering in the Sahel often eat rice seeds, cereals, and aquatic plants. They forage by probing in mud or soil, picking prey from surfaces or plants, and sometimes wading in shallow water. They feed both during the day and at night.
  • Habitat: Outside of the breeding season, this species favors the muddy edges of lakes, pools, ponds, rivers, marshes, and flooded areas, including brackish, saline, or alkaline waters.
  • Range: Ruffs are quite rare Eurasian visitors with only a handful of records in the state.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata)

  • Features: A medium-sized sandpiper with a rufous cap and dark brown upperparts fringed with chestnut and whitish-buff. The neck and breast are heavily streaked, while the lower breast, upper belly, and flanks have prominent blackish chevrons. The legs vary in color from yellowish to greenish or brownish, and the bill is black with brownish or pinkish at the base of the lower mandible. In flight, it displays a narrow white wingbar and white edges on its dark-centered rump and upper tail coverts.
  • Behavior: The bird’s diet varies widely and includes insects and their larvae, bivalves, snails, crustaceans, polychaete worms, and seeds. It feeds along the water’s edge using a combination of pecking and jabbing with quick, shallow probing. These birds often gather in large flocks of hundreds or thousands, which break up into smaller groups while feeding.
  • Habitat: This bird is found in tundra regions of the low Arctic and subarctic, particularly in damp hillock tundra and moss-sedge bogs with drier, shrub-covered hummocks. In the non-breeding season, it uses a variety of coastal and inland wetlands, including coastal saltmarshes, intertidal mudflats, shallow brackish lagoons, flooded grasslands, river mouths, and rice fields. It often feeds among vegetation on drier edges.
  • Range: A generally uncommon shorebird everywhere, there are fewer than five records of this species in Connecticut, with the most recent record coming in 1999 from Waterbury.

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)

  • Features: The Curlew Sandpiper is a larger sandpiper in the Calidris family, notable for its long, down-curved bill. In breeding plumage, it is predominantly brick red and easily identifiable. In non-breeding, juvenile, and immature plumages, it features muted colors: grayish-brown to brownish-gray on top and white underneath (juveniles may have a buff wash on the chest). A distinguishing characteristic is its fully white rump, which sets it apart from other Calidris sandpipers beyond the unique bill shape.
  • Behavior: The Curlew Sandpiper typically feeds alone or in small groups during the breeding season, but it gathers in large flocks (sometimes thousands strong) during migration and the non-breeding season, often mingling with other bird species. This sandpiper forages both day and night, mainly on exposed tidal flats or in nearby shallow waters, but also frequents marshes, salt flats, and sewage lagoons. Its diet consists mainly of small invertebrates such as worms, insects, mollusks, and crabs, although seeds (particularly from Salicornia plants) can also be significant.
  • Habitat: During migration, the Curlew Sandpiper favors open tidal mudflats, but it can also be found in areas with sparse vegetation at the edges of mudflats, as well as nearby sandy beaches, saltpans, and coral flats. Inland, it prefers sewage lagoons, rice fields, freshwater marshes, and the muddy shores of ponds and lakes.
  • Range: Another rare Eurasian visitor with no more than 10 records in the state.

Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)

  • Features: A medium-sized shorebird with a rounded belly, but a graceful appearance thanks to its long legs, slender neck, and long, gently curved bill. In flight, its long, narrow wings and feet extending beyond the tail tip are notable. Breeding adults are mottled dark brown above with distinct bands of dark brown and white below. The head displays a chestnut cheek and crown, a light line above the eye, and a dark line in front of the eye. Legs are greenish-yellow. Nonbreeding adults have a pale gray upper body, white underparts, a dusky gray breast, and a light line above the eye. Juveniles are darker on top than nonbreeding adults, appearing more scaly due to pale edges on dark feathers. Larger than a Sanderling, smaller than a Lesser Yellowlegs, and similar in size to a Dunlin or Pectoral Sandpiper, but more refined with longer legs.
  • Behavior: The bird forages in freshwater areas by rhythmically probing soft mud for invertebrates, typically moving slowly as it probes, similar to a dowitcher. It often feeds and rests in groups, commonly mixed with dowitchers and yellowlegs.
  • Habitat: The bird nests in moist or dry tundra environments. During migration and winter, it primarily uses freshwater wetlands, such as rainwater pools, marshes, ponds, wet fields, flooded pastures, and impoundments.
  • Range: A fairly uncommon late-summer visitor to Connecticut’s coastline, most frequent in August and September.

Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)

  • Features: In any plumage, the combination of dark legs and the absence of webbing between toes distinguishes this species from all except Little Stint. Breeding plumage features a chestnut-colored lower face, throat, and upper breast, with white around the bill base and part of the supercilium. The crown and upperparts display contrasting chestnut, black, and white patterns against gray upper wings, while the underparts are white.
  • Behavior: This species breeds in low-elevation montane tundra in the subalpine zone, typically in relatively dry and elevated locations with moss and scrubby vegetation. During the non-breeding season, it primarily inhabits coastal areas, including intertidal mudflats, sheltered inlets, bays, and lagoons. However, it can also be found in a range of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands, and occasionally on sandy beaches and rocky shores.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, this bird feeds on beetles, insect larvae, Hymenoptera, and tiny seeds. It may forage in wet habitats far from the nest. In the non-breeding season, it consumes small invertebrates like polychaete worms, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and talitrid amphipods, as well as seeds. It uses a constant pecking motion similar to Little Stint, probing sediments up to 20 mm deep or jabbing, and also gleaning. These birds feed in dense flocks, often with other Calidris species, spreading out while foraging but gathering when startled. Foraging can occur at night depending on tidal conditions.
  • Range: This species is very rare in Connecticut and has only been recorded a handful of times, most recently in 2006 (although there was an individual observed in neighboring Rhode Island in 2020).

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis)

  • Features: A small, delicate shorebird with a moderately long neck, rounded head, and large eyes. It features a slender, short bill (about the length of its head) and long legs. When resting, the wingtips align with the tail. The bird’s plumage is bright buff overall, with fine black streaks on the crown and dark centers on the back and upper wing feathers, creating a neat, scaly look. The underwing shows white in flight and display, with a dark comma at the wrist (carpal joint). Its bill is dark and legs are yellow. It’s larger than a Semipalmated Sandpiper and smaller than a Red Knot, with a size similar to a Pectoral Sandpiper.
  • Behavior: The bird moves quickly through short grasslands, often pausing to pick insects from the ground or vegetation, similar to the behavior of a plover. During spring migration, males may engage in displays that include spreading their wings, puffing up their feathers, lifting their heads, and making exaggerated tiptoe movements.
  • Habitat: Nests in dry tundra of the High Arctic. During migration, it is usually found in dry, grassy environments such as prairies, agricultural fields, and sod farms. In winter, it occupies grazed pastures and the pampas of southeastern South America.
  • Range: A highly uncommon visitor to Connecticut, almost always along the coast in August or September.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

  • Features: Sanderlings are small, chubby sandpipers with a short, stout bill that’s roughly the length of the head. These and other sandpipers in the Calidris genus are often referred to as “peeps.” Sanderlings are medium-sized within this group. Typically, you’ll see them in nonbreeding plumage, which is very pale with light gray on top and white underneath, along with a black mark at the shoulder. During spring and summer, their head, neck, and back are patterned with black, white, and rich rufous hues. Their legs and bills are consistently black. In flight, they display striking white wing stripes against darker wings. Roughly the same size as a Dunlin, larger than a Least Sandpiper but smaller than a Red Knot.
  • Behavior: Sanderlings nest in the High Arctic tundra and head south in the fall, becoming a familiar sight on beaches. They form loose flocks and scour the sand for marine invertebrates along the water’s edge, often running back and forth as they follow the waves.
  • Habitat: In migration and winter, Sanderlings forage primarily on beaches, but they also frequent mudflats. They nest in the High Arctic on gravel patches and low-growing, damp tundra.
  • Range: Sanderlings are fairly common throughout the year along Connecticut’s coastline.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

  • Features: A plump, small shorebird with medium-length legs, a short neck, and a long, slightly curved bill. Breeding adults feature a bright rusty back and crown, black belly patch, and white underparts with dark speckles. Non-breeding adults have grayish brown upperparts, head, and breast, with pale underparts. Juveniles are browner, displaying a marbled pattern of black and rusty brown above, white below with faint speckling and a hint of a dark belly patch. The legs are dark. It’s larger than a Western Sandpiper but smaller than a Short-billed Dowitcher.
  • Behavior: Forages by pecking and probing in mud while walking slowly, often in large groups. Breeding males exhibit their territories with fluttering and gliding flights, accompanied by distinctive trilling songs.
  • Habitat: Breeds in wet tundra with numerous small ponds. Winters in coastal estuaries and lagoons. During migration, found in various wetland habitats with muddy edges, as well as sod farms, wet fields, and sewage ponds.
  • Range: Dunlins are uncommon along Connecticut’s coastline and occasionally inland for most of the year, but less so in the summer months.

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

  • Features: A small, plump shorebird with a long, gently drooping bill and relatively long legs for its size. Breeding adults have a grayish upper body and white underside with extensive dark speckling on the breast and flanks. Some back and shoulder feathers have reddish-brown edges. The legs and the base of the bill are orange. Non-breeding adults are a deep slate gray with a subtle violet or purple sheen on some wing feathers (tertials and coverts). Juveniles have pale edges on the upperparts, giving a scaly appearance. Slightly larger than a Dunlin, but smaller than a Ruddy Turnstone.
  • Behavior: The bird primarily searches for food along rocky coastlines, where it gathers invertebrates from rocks and seaweed, or forages near shorelines in piles of algae or seaweed.
  • Habitat: Breeds in the high Arctic tundra, where it forages in the tundra and nearby rocky coastal zones. Winters along rocky coastlines of northern North America and Europe, and may feed on shorelines among debris and seaweed, especially during migration.
  • Range: Fairly uncommon along Connecticut’s coastline, mostly in the winter months.

Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)

  • Features: A small shorebird with exceptionally long wings that extend well beyond the tail tip. It has relatively long legs and a proportionately long bill. Adults are a mix of warm brown and black on top, white underneath, and feature a warm brown, streaky breast. Juveniles resemble adults but with a more scaly appearance on the upperparts due to neat buff edges on dark feathers. It’s larger than a Semipalmated Sandpiper but smaller than a Dunlin.
  • Behavior: Feeds by swiftly walking and collecting small prey from the ground or low vegetation, with occasional probing into sand or mud.
  • Habitat: Nests in dry, high Arctic tundra with minimal vegetation. Migrates through prairies, grasslands, rain pools, and the muddy shores of lakes and rivers, utilizing both dry and wet areas. Winters at elevations up to 15,000 feet near drying lakes and in shortgrass habitats.
  • Range: Very uncommon visitors to Connecticut, seen mostly in August and September.

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

  • Features: The tiny and compact stint has a short bill. Its upperparts feature dark brown centers and pale rufous edges, forming a distinct “V” on the back. The head, neck, and breast are rufous buff with brown streaks, while the rest of the underparts, throat, and chin are white. It is distinguished from Red-necked Stint by its slightly longer bill and legs, white throat, and dark streaks on the sides of the neck and breast. Females are typically larger. Non-breeding adults have brownish gray upperparts with dark mottling and pale edges. The crown is gray and streaked, while the face and underparts are white. Juveniles have dark brown centers on feathers with rufous and white edges, a distinct “V” on the back, pale buff head and breast, and fine streaking on the gray crown, neck, and broad eyestripe.
  • Behavior: This bird mainly feeds on invertebrates, with its diet during the breeding season consisting primarily of larval and adult dipterans and small beetles. After breeding, it includes ants, hymenoptera, water bugs, annelids, small mollusks, crustaceans, freshwater mites, and some plant material. It uses quick pecking actions to forage and may occasionally probe for food, relying on sight to locate prey. It is a sociable bird, often forming small to large flocks of up to several thousand birds, and it may sometimes defend its feeding territory.
  • Habitat: This bird inhabits the high Arctic tundra, primarily on dry, lower-altitude terrain, often among dwarf willows near swampy or salt-marsh areas. It avoids locations with more than 250 mm of annual rainfall. During migration, it frequents small inland waters and riverbanks or coastal mudflats and seashores. In winter, it mainly stays along coastal areas such as estuarine mudflats, enclosed lagoons, and tidal creeks, as well as inland freshwater sources like marsh pools, paddy fields, and jheels.
  • Range: There is only one record of this bird in Connecticut, from Sandy Point in August 2005.

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

  • Features: This is one of the larger small “peep” sandpipers, characterized by its fairly long, slightly curved bill. It has notably long wings, with wingtips that extend past the tail tip when folded. The bird has a pale brown-and-white appearance. Breeding adults feature a pale line above the eye and prominent dark speckling on the head, breast, and flanks, with dark brown wings and some rusty shading in the shoulder area. Non-breeding adults are similar but paler brown and lack rusty tones. Juveniles resemble nonbreeding adults but have a scaly look due to pronounced rusty and gold edging on the feathers. All stages exhibit a distinct white rump (uppertail covert feathers). This bird is larger than a Semipalmated Sandpiper but smaller than a Dunlin.
  • Behavior: The bird hunts by probing its bill deep into mud or moss to catch prey, often submerging the bill fully before moving forward to probe again. Males engage in flight displays and complex ground displays during the breeding season.
  • Habitat: Nests in the high Arctic’s moist tundra near freshwater. Migratory birds frequent almost any freshwater wetland with muddy edges, including sod farms and flooded fields where water is shallow (up to 2 inches deep). They may also use tidal wetlands. Winters in marshes and coastal lagoons, and occasionally in estuaries and outer beaches.
  • Range: Uncommon birds along the state’s coast, generally between May and October.

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

  • Features: Least Sandpipers are very small sandpipers with round bodies and relatively short, pointed wings. They have thin-tipped, slightly curved bills and slender, medium-length legs. Their upperparts are brown, and their underparts are white. The bills are black, and their legs are yellowish-green, though they can sometimes be covered in mud. Juveniles have crisp, rust-colored plumage, more vibrant than adults. In flight, they display whitish rumps with a black longitudinal line. They are the smallest shorebirds, a bit bigger than a sparrow but slightly smaller than a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
  • Behavior: Least Sandpipers hunt for invertebrates in mud and sand along the water’s edge. They often form loose flocks and mix with other species, but they usually stick to smaller groups and feed near drier areas compared to other tiny sandpipers.
  • Habitat: Least Sandpipers forage on mudflats and along the edges of water bodies, preferring muddier shores and estuaries over other sandpipers. They are less frequently seen on ocean beaches. Their breeding grounds are in wet tundra and fragmented boreal forest throughout much of northern North America.
  • Range: Least Sandpipers are pretty common in much of Connecticut between May and October.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

  • Features: A robust, medium-sized shorebird with a relatively long, thick-based bill and long wings. Males are significantly larger and about 50% heavier than females. Adults have a mix of brown, gold, and black on the upperparts, with a white belly and distinct dark-brown rows of stipples on the breast that end abruptly at the white belly. Juveniles resemble adults but display some rusty-edged feathers on the upperparts. The legs are yellowish. In flight, it has minimal wingstriping. Larger than a Semipalmated Sandpiper but smaller than a Willet, similar in size to a Dunlin.
  • Behavior: Searches for invertebrates by picking and probing in shallow wetlands and mud. Males engage in impressive aerial and ground displays.
  • Habitat: Nests in moist, grassy tundra, typically close to coastal regions. During migration and winter, birds prefer grassy wetlands, both natural and man-made, including sod farms, rice fields, and wet pastures.
  • Range: Relatively uncommon birds, mostly along the coast, between April and October.

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)

  • Features: A small, plump shorebird with a slender bill that curves slightly at the tip. It features long, pointed wings, a short tail, and medium-length legs for its size. Females are typically larger and have longer bills than males. Breeding adults display black, brown, rufous, and gold upperparts, with white underparts marked by dark arrow-shaped streaks. They have a rufous crown and ear patch, as well as dark legs and bill. Nonbreeding adults are pale gray above and whitish below. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but have more vivid upperparts, with golden and rufous feather edges. Larger than a Least Sandpiper, smaller than a Dunlin.
  • Behavior: The bird forages by slowly moving through mudflats and similar areas, pecking or probing for small invertebrates. Males perform numerous flight displays on the breeding grounds to attract females. Females leave the breeding grounds before the young fledge and typically winter farther south than males.
  • Habitat: Nests in tundra habitats. Forages in a variety of wet environments, including mudflats, plowed or wet agricultural fields, riverbanks, lakeshores, sewage ponds, estuaries, and lagoons.
  • Range: Quite uncommon along Connecticut’s shoreline, mostly in August and September.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)

  • Features: A tiny, plump shorebird with a thin, straight bill that resembles a tube. When the wings are folded, they are about the same length as the tail. The bill typically remains straight and doesn’t droop at the tip. Breeding adults have a mix of brown, black, gold, and rufous on their upperparts, pale underparts, and dark legs. The head, nape, and breast have brown streaks or stippling, while the flanks are white. Nonbreeding adults are mostly mousy grayish brown above and pale below, with a faint pale line above the eye. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but have a distinct, scaly pattern on their upperparts. This bird is smaller than a Dunlin, but slightly larger than a Least Sandpiper.
  • Behavior: Semipalmated Sandpipers move slowly across mudflats and wetlands, constantly pecking or probing for small invertebrates. They often gather in large groups, with more dominant individuals sometimes chasing or pecking at others that come too close.
  • Habitat: Breeds on arctic tundra and forages in mudflats, wet and plowed agricultural fields, riverbanks, sewage ponds, and estuaries.
  • Range: Very common wader all over Connecticut, but most densely at the coast, between May and October.

Connecticut Birding Resources


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Connecticut’s diverse shorebird population offers a vibrant glimpse into the state’s coastal ecosystems. From the agile Sanderlings along sandy beaches to the Semipalmated Sandpipers probing mudflats for tiny invertebrates, these species play a crucial role in maintaining the health of their habitats. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure the continued survival of these birds, particularly as many face threats from habitat loss and climate change. Birders and nature enthusiasts can observe the seasonal migration of these shorebirds, making Connecticut a prime location for those looking to explore the beauty and importance of these coastal bird species.