Waders and Shore Birds.

The terms Waders and Shore Birds are widely used by “birders”. They tend to be used interchangeably and this can lead to confusion between birders in different parts of the world. The absence of clearly defined characteristics to enable placement of birds in either of the two categories can lead to misunderstandings. This has led to some birds being called Waders when they have no significant association with water.

Although there does not seem to be any particular move towards achieving greater clarity in the use of these two terms, quite a few website visitors have shown an interest in this topic. Perhaps people may respond to a suggestion that definition of the terms used could usefully be progressed. It would assist an understanding of the way in which various groups of birds are presented in this and associated websites.

Why two names?

The logic behind the use of the two terms is fairly obvious. One group take advantage of their long legs to wade into water in search of food. Another group, which do not have such long legs, can be seen foraging along shore lines of coastal and inland waters.

Unfortunately some long-legged birds, for example the Thick-knees and Coursers, are often referred to as Waders when they actually favour quite dry, even arid, habitats.

Plovers and Lapwings, in family Charadriidae, may be called Waders or Shore Birds. Some Plovers and quite a lot of Lapwing species are grassland birds and are not particularly associated with water.

Although many species in family Scolopacidae (Shanks, Sandpipers etc) are clearly associated with water, the various species of Woodcock, often called Waders, are actually found in deep woodland undergrowth. Also in this family the species of Snipes are seen probing in shallow water but they are quite secretive and conceal themselves in vegetation. This behaviour is at variance with that of the confident posture of the Waders.

What characterises a Wader?

The following factors characterise Waders:-

• Large / medium sized, long legs, long necks, long (often specialised) beaks.
• Confident birds which favour open areas of shallow water.
• Probe through water to the substrate below where they detect prey by touch.

Using this definition I count the following birds as Waders:-

Flamingos (6), Spoonbills (6), Stilts (6), Avocets (4), Jacanas (9), Dowitchers (3), Godwits (4), Curlews (7), Redshanks (2), Greenshanks (2), Yellowlegs (2) and Whimbrel (1) in family Scolopacidae. Total 52 species.

What characterises a Shore Bird?

• Medium / small sized, seen along the edges of water rather than in the water.
• Less confident than Waders, plumage provides camouflage on shore line.
• Medium sized birds catch prey by sight and pursue technique.
• Smaller birds use gleaning the surface technique.

The birds I count as Shore Birds are:-

Sandpipers (25), Stints (4), Tattlers (2), Turnstones (2), Knots (2), Sanderling (1), Willet (1), Dunlin (1) and Ruff (1) giving a total of 39 in family Scolopacidae.

Plovers (36), Dotterel (5), Killdeer (1) and Wrybill (1) as well as Lapwings (23) giving a total of 66 species in family Charadriidae.

Oyster Catchers (10), Sheathbills (3) and the Crab-Plover of family Dromadidae (1) total 14.

Shore Birds total 119 species.

Plovers and Lapwings.

The “Shore” as a habitat should actually be considered as two sub-habitats:-

• Coastal shore and beaches.
• Coastal grassland, inland areas, agricultural land and even moorlands.

Some Plovers and quite a few Lapwings can be found in inland areas sometimes showing little affinity for water. Many of these birds actually favour moorland areas for breeding. I can see a case for calling shore and beach birds Plovers and grassland birds Lapwings but this requires a more detailed study than I have done so far.