10 Types of Shorebirds in New Mexico (ID Guide)

What kinds of shorebirds can you find in New Mexico?

Types of shorebirds in New Mexico

Shorebirds are incredibly lively and exciting!Their showy mating displays and fierce defense of their territory make them fun to watch and observe.

Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of common shorebirds in New Mexico. I’ve also included some fun facts about each species. I think you will be surprised to learn that a few species of shorebirds don’t live by the shore!

Unfortunately, shorebirds can be hard to identify. First, many species look similar to each other. In addition, due to their migratory nature, they can show up in places they typically don’t visit. That said, you may want to consider purchasing the book below if you need additional help with shorebird identification.

ID guide to shorebirds

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10 COMMON Shorebirds In New Mexico!

#1. Killdeer

  • Charadrius vociferus

Species of shorebirds in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are brownish-tan on top and white below, with two black bands on the neck.

Unlike most shorebirds in New Mexico, Killdeer occupy dry habitats.

These birds feed primarily on small invertebrates, including earthworms, snails, and aquatic insect larvae. They also follow farm equipment, retrieving unearthed worms and insects. Killdeers are adept swimmers, even in swift water, despite spending most time foraging on land.

During the nesting season, the Killdeer is one of the best-known practitioners of the “broken-wing” display. They will feign an injury and attempt to lure predators away from their nest. They also puff up and charge at intruders such as cows to prevent them from crushing their eggs.

While rooftops attract nesting Killdeer, they can sometimes be problematic for the young. Chicks are often scared to leave the nest because of the high drop! Parents eventually lure chicks off the roof, but it can be dangerous. However, one set of chicks is known to have survived a leap off a seven-story building.

#2. Black-necked Stilt

  • Himantopus mexicanus

Kings of shorebirds in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are black above and white below with needle-like bills and rosy pink legs.

These delicate-looking birds favor open habitats with limited vegetation and shallow water. You may spot them in mudflats, grassy marshes, shallow lakes, and sewage or retaining ponds.

Like many shorebirds in New Mexico, Black-necked Stilts forage by wading in shallow waters. They typically grab food off the water’s surface with their bill. You might also see them catch flying insects or chase small fish into the shallows.

Nesting stilts may form a ring around an approaching predator, calling loudly, flapping their wings, and leaping up and down in what researchers call a “popcorn display.” They’ll even do this to humans who get too close! This species is also known to strike approaching humans from behind with their legs.

YouTube video

#3. American Avocet

  • Recurvirostra americana

Shorebirds in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Breeding adults have a rusty head and neck that turns grayish white after breeding.
  • They have black and white wings, a white body, and bluish-gray legs.

These shorebirds spend most of their time in New Mexico foraging in shallow fresh and saltwater wetlands. These unique birds use a signature feeding style called “scything.” They sweep their slightly open bill from side to side as they walk forward, capturing prey in the water.

American Avocets have an incredible way to defend their territory. In response to predators, the American Avocet simulates the Doppler effect by giving a series of call notes that gradually rise in pitch. As a result, intruders are tricked into thinking the bird is approaching much faster than it is.

American Avocets have been known to practice “brood-parasitism.”They lay their eggs in the nests of other Avocets or species such as Mew-Gulls. Interestingly, Common Terns and Black-necked Stilts may parasitize Avocet nests, and the Avocets will raise the other species as their own.

American Avocets face the greatest threat from pollution. For example, in the western U.S., selenium leaching from the soil after rain causes low reproductive success and embryo deformities. Chicks are also susceptible to bird defects from Methylmercury, a pollutant from burning coal.

#4. Greater Yellowlegs

  • Tringa melanoleuca

New Mexico shorebirds

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Breeding adults have a dense, dark checkerboard pattern on the breast and neck that fades after breeding.
  • All adults have bright yellow legs.

Greater Yellowlegs occupy various fresh and brackish wetlands in New Mexico. They typically prefer areas with many small lakes and ponds, scattered shrubs, and small trees, including dwarf birch, pine, and willow.

These shorebirds have a boisterous mating display! They land, run around the female, and pose with upraised wings. Once breeding occurs, both parents tend to the young and noisily fend off predators.

YouTube video

#5. Lesser Yellowlegs

  • Tringa flavipes

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloration is grayish brown with fine gray streaking across the head and neck, white eye-rings, and white spots on the back and wings.
  • They have vivid yellow legs.

Despite the Lesser Yellowlegs’ similar appearance to Greater Yellowlegs, they aren’t close relatives. Instead, lesser Yellowlegs are more closely related to other types of shorebirds in New Mexico.

These birds travel in loose flocks and are often seen with other shorebird species during migration and winter. However, they become extremely territorial during the breeding season and will chase intruders away. Lesser Yellowlegs are well known for their noisy defense of nests and chicks.

Lesser Yellowlegs are listed on the Yellow Watch List by Partners in Flight. In the early 20th century, they were heavily hunted in North America. While this practice has ended thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, hunting Lesser Yellowlegs is still common in parts of the Caribbean. They’re also heavily impacted by the continued loss of wetland habitat in their wintering range.

#6. Spotted Sandpiper

  • Actitis macularius

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a grayish-brown back, plain white breast, and pale yellow bill in winter.
  • Breeding adults develop dark brown speckles all over their bodies.

Spotted Sandpipers are active foragers and have a distinctive hunting style. They walk in meandering paths, suddenly darting at prey such as insects and small crabs. They bob their tail ends in a smooth motion almost constantly.

Unlike most shorebirds in New Mexico, female Spotted Sandpipers perform courtship displays and defend territories.

Females are sometimes polyandrous and mate with more than one male. The males will form their own smaller territories within the female’s territory and defend them from one another.

While it is still a common species, Spotted Sandpiper populations have declined in the last several decades. The decline is primarily caused by compromised water quality due to herbicides, pesticides, and other run-off pollution.

#7. Sanderling

  • Calidris alba

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Breeding adults are spangled black, white, and rich rufous on the head, neck, and back while non-breeding adults are pale overall.
  • They have black legs, bills, and eyes.

Look for the Sanderling in eastern New Mexico. Predominately a coastal species, you will likely see Sanderlings on wave-washed beaches and rocky shorelines. However, they may occasionally visit inland lakeshores during migration. In addition, non-breeding Sanderlings may remain in their winter habitat year-round.

These shorebirds appear to chase the waves when foraging. As a wave recedes, they run down the beach to find sand crabs and other invertebrates stranded by the wave. They may also probe the sand with their bill for hidden prey. After foraging, Sanderlings often regurgitate sand pellets, mollusk fragments, and crustacean shells.

#8. Long-Billed Dowitcher

  • Limnodromus scolopaceus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Breeding adults have black, gold, rufous, and white upper parts with reddish underparts, while non-breeding adults are grayish above with a pale belly.
  • Females have a longer bill.

Long-billed Dowitchers are typically found in freshwater environments in coastal areas. They’ll visit lakes, flooded fields, and sewage ponds. They prefer foraging areas with muddy substrate and water less than 3 inches deep.

These birds forage by wading in shallow water or walking on wet mud, slowly and deliberately moving forward and probing deeply into the mud with their bill. Their bills have tactile receptors called Herbst corpuscles, allowing the birds to locate prey by touch. In addition, they often feed in darkness and have excellent night vision.

Due to their remote breeding range, little information is available on the populations of Long-Billed Dowitchers. Partners in Flight lists them as a species of low conservation concern. However, Long-Billed Dowitchers may be threatened by the loss of wetland habitat, climate change, and pollution.

#9. Wilson’s Snipe

  • Gallinago delicata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • They are intricately patterned in buff and brown stripes with a white belly.

Wilson’s Snipes are stocky thanks to their extra-large pectoral muscles that make up nearly a quarter of their weight, which is the highest percentage of any shorebird in New Mexico. Their extra muscle means they can reach incredible speeds in flight, up to 60 miles per hour. Their fast, erratic flights make them difficult targets for predators.

These birds prefer wet, marshy habitats. You may spot them in bogs and flooded agricultural fields during winter and migration. They tend to avoid areas with high, dense vegetation.

Wilson’s Snipes are well known for their dramatic courtship displays. Typically males but sometimes females circle and dive over their breeding territory, and the air rushing over their outspread tail feathers creates a haunting, whirring “hu-hu-hu” sound. They may complete this display for courtship, advertising and defending territory, or warding off potential predators. WATCH BELOW!

YouTube video

Predators have difficulty sneaking up on Wilson’s Snipes because these birds’ eyes are set so far back on their heads.As a result, they can see almost as well behind them as they can to the front and sides!

#10. Wilson’s Phalarope

  • Phalaropus tricolor

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloration is grayish with cinnamon highlights.
  • Breeding females are more colorful than males, while non-breeding adults are pale gray above and white below.

Wilson’s Phalaropes are very social throughout the year, nesting in small colonies and traveling in large flocks. You can spot them at salty lakes during migration, but they may also visit sewage treatment plants, ponds, and coastal marshes. They prefer to breed in areas with shallow freshwater like marshes, wetlands, and roadside ditches.

Wilson’s and other phalarope species have a polyandrous mating system where the females typically mate with multiple males. Females may vie for males with aggressive posturing that sometimes leads to fights. Females also perform courtship displays. Once paired, the female lays a clutch of eggs and then abandons the male to seek out another.

These shorebirds have a tremendous appetite and are known to eat so much that they sometimes double their body weight.Occasionally they get so fat they can’t even fly, and researchers can catch them by hand!

Which of these shorebirds in New Mexico have you seen before?

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