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Birding on the Beach in the Sunshine State

Posted by alainaflute on April 11, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday on BeachTreasuresandTreasureBeaches has brought us many articles on all kinds of fun beach critters: horses, mice, and dolphins, oh, my! But there is definitely one beach-goer that all beaches have in common: birds. In the words of David McRee, Visit Florida Beaches Expert, “Beaches and birds: they’re a natural pairing.” Florida beaches are great places to birdwatch, and in his Birding on the Beach article on, David McRee tells us how to identify these noisy, fine-feathered beach-goers. You may be surprised at just how many varieties there are!

Best known by the moniker “sea”, gulls come in many varieties: herring gulls, laughing gulls, and ring-billed gulls.

Laughing gulls, so named because their call sounds like a laugh, are easily identified by their black head and red bill. Herring gulls are much larger, with a white head. The small, ring-billed gull has a black ring around its yellow bill. They all tend to intermingle.” These birds are bold and daring, so please don’t feed them!

Let’s take a tern (yeah, yeah, I couldn’t help myself). Terns look like gulls, white above and gray below, but they are a bird of a different feather! How can you tell them apart? “They have a lighter, more buoyant flight with sleeker, narrower bodies and wings, forked tails and very sharp beaks. Terns will hover briefly over the water, 10 to 30 feet in the air, and then dive gracefully to catch a fish.”

There are a few different kinds of terns. The Royal tern is the largest and has an orange bill. The Caspian tern‘s bill is red. The smallest tern is the Least tern, and last but not least (again, couldn’t resist) is the Common tern with a black cap and an orange-red bill.

Shorebirds are those cute, little birds that will run away instead of fly away when you get closer. I used to call them Sandpipers because I didn’t know what else to call them! Now I know that Sanderlings, Dowitchers and Willets are more specific ways to identify these little beach joggers.

Sanderlings are one of the smallest shorebirds (about 6 inches long). They have black bills, black eyes, and black legs. Dowitchers are a little larger and are usually gray or light brown with a long, thin bill. The Willet is one of the larger shorebirds. With long bills, long legs, and a grey body, they are fairly easy to pick out, especially if they are hanging out with their shorter shorebird friends.

Now for the elegant seabirds. Herons and Egrets are beautiful, long-legged birds that can be found near water anywhere in Florida. White Herons and Egrets and Grey or Blue Herons are of the more common varieties.

Some other birds you can spy by the sea in Florida are the Roseate Spoonbill, the White Ibis, the Black Skimmer, the Oystercatcher, and the Brown Pelican.

There is plenty more to know about beach birding in Florida: how to respect birds nesting on the beach, keeping beaches clean, what to do if you see a bird in distress, and the best places to find birds. Read this important information in David McRee’s article on!

Who knew there was so much to know about these seemingly common beach creatures? It’s time to hit the beach with our binoculars and field guide to see just how many kinds of beach birds we can identify!

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