Prairie Shorebirds

Shorebirds include a diverse group of species that generally winter on southern coasts; they include sandpipers, plovers, phalaropes, godwits, curlews, stilts and avocets. Since most Americans encounter them on vacations to the beach, they associate these birds with coastal ecosystems. In fact, most summer and breed on the Great Plains and Arctic tundra and are common migrants through the Heartland; a number of species are specifically associated with the vast prairie grasslands of North America.

Upland sandpipers are common on the tallgrass prairie of the Central Plains and Upper Midwest, often seen perched on fence posts. Killdeer, the most common and widespread inland shorebirds in North America, are noisy plovers that inhabit farmlands, airports and urban parks; they are especially common on mudflats that line our reservoirs. Near streams and lakes, they are often joined by spotted sandpipers, which bob their way along the waterline and escape to cover on fluttering, stiffly-held wings.

The shortgrass prairies of the western Mountain States are home to long-billed curlews, mountain plovers, snowy plovers and American avocets; the latter favor salt flats and ephemeral pools, where they sweep the shallows with their long, up-curved bill. Wetlands of the western prairies also attract willets, black-necked stilts and Wilson's phalaropes. Finally, marbled godwits, among our largest shorebirds, inhabit the grasslands of the Dakotas, Montana and Canada's Prairie Provinces.