Natural La Jolla: Migrating shorebirds are now stopping by our beaches, bluffs

By Kelly Stewart

Spring in La Jolla is just around the corner and the little birds that are heading up north and east of us to start their families are making their way past our coastline.

Every day when I’m out walking, I see little groups of light gray and white birds, some with tails bobbing and others standing around facing into the wind. There are several species migrating past right now, and many more that winter here.

Shorebirds tend to be really hard to identify – at least for me – as most of them are now still in their winter plumage. Willets (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) are tall light grayish birds with greenish legs. They have characteristic black and white bands on their wings when they are flying. Their call is strikingly loud - will-will-willet-will-willet. They nest further inland (and further north) as well as throughout the northern Midwest.

Another little bird you might see is the black-bellied plover (Pluviatis squatarola). In breeding plumage this bird is quite beautiful with a dark black belly and face, but you’re not likely to see one in that plumage here. In winter, while he’s here though, he may be recognized by his short straight black bill and black legs. These birds are unique in that their footprint in the sand has only 3 digits as they lack a fourth (backward facing) digit that other sandpipers have. Black-bellied plovers nest on the Arctic tundra.

For the next couple of months, and with the great weather we’ve been having, there should be plenty of opportunity for shorebird watching.

   
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