First Spring Shorebirds

Here in Missouri, killdeer are permanent residents, upland sandpipers, spotted sandpipers and American woodcocks are summer residents and common snipe are winter residents.  Other shorebirds are migrants, passing through the State on their way between northern (often Arctic) breeding grounds and wintering grounds on southern beaches, on Caribbean islands or in Central or South America.

This morning, at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain, I encountered flocks of short-billed dowitchers, the first migrant shorebirds that I have observed this season and among the earliest that I have ever encountered in Missouri; indeed, the spring shorebird migration generally begins in late March in our region, peaks during April and tapers off through the first half of May.  Of course, there are always exceptions and these dowitchers, headed for taiga lakes and wetlands across Alaska and Canada, may have to endure some nasty March weather.

Then again, birds that breed across the Arctic or Subarctic are not likely to be discouraged by a round or two of cold rain and light snow; as long as they encounter flooded fields and open shallows, they'll continue to push northward.  On this mild, sunny morning, central Missouri must have seemed inviting enough, accompanied as they were by American white pelicans, ring-billed gulls, American coot and a wide assortment of ducks (not to mention the many bald eagles, mostly immature, that patrolled the refuge).