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Idaho Fish and Game

March’s Wildlife Express newsletter wades through the lives of Idaho’s shorebirds


Of the 38 species that have been seen in Idaho, most only visit our state for brief stops during migration.

When folks think about tropical, sandy beaches, Idaho doesn’t usually come to mind. Well, as far as humans go. As for the subjects of March’s Wildlife Express newsletter, on the other hand, Idaho’s shorelines are a five-star resort.

Shorebirds is a broad term, used to define birds that, you guessed it, inhabit shorelines. Composed of sandpipers, phalaropes, plovers, avocets and stilts, shorebirds are charismatic little birds that enjoy long walks on the beach—including river shores, marshes and mud flats. Their bodies are often small, supported by toothpick-like legs that enable them to wade through muddy terrain. Their beaks are typically long and narrow like needle-nose pliers, helping them pick up tiny invertebrates buried down in the water and mud. 

Sandpipers tend to be the most recognizable member of the shorebird family; however, sandpiper is an umbrella term and is comprised of 87 individual species, including the recognizable least sandpiper and the long-billed curlew — the largest shorebird in North America. 

Plovers are another interesting shorebird that have a clever trick. When a predator gets too close to their nest, killdeer and other plovers will fake a broken wing to lure the predator away. Once the predator is out of range, the bird flies off. 

In fact, flying is a big part of a shorebird’s daily routine. Of the 38 species that have been seen in Idaho, most only visit our state for brief stops during migration.

Long-billed curlew

Shorebird Facts

  • Almost 217 species have been identified around the world.
  • Many sandpipers nest in the Arctic. The rest of the year is spent near open water.
  • Plovers will sometimes hunt by tapping their feet which disturbs the water or soil. This makes prey animals move, so the plover can see the prey and grab it.
  • Populations of many shorebirds are decreasing. Habitat loss is a major reason.
  • One of the truly long-distance shorebird migrants is the bar-tailed godwit. This dove-sized shorebird makes a nonstop journey of 7,200 miles, traveling from Alaska to New Zealand for the winter.
  • One banded red knot has flown the distance between the Earth and moon and half-way back in his lifetime of 21-plus years. This equals 358,500 miles!
  • Birds that make nonstop flights, like the bar-tailed godwit, also shrink some of the body organs they do not need during migration.

There’s a whole lot more of interesting facts and tales of long-distance migrations in this month’s issue of Wildlife Express. Check out Fish and Game’s Wildlife Express newsletter webpage to read more about shorebirds.