For more information on species & ecosystem science:

Wildlife Science

Fish Science

Habitat Science


Shorebird Ecology


Photo by Peter Hodum

Black oystercatcher on Destruction Island


Photo by Gregg Thompson

Snowy plover on the Washington coast


“Shorebirds” are members of the order Charadriiformes which is a large and diverse group of bird species. In Washington, this group includes species in the following families: plovers, oystercatchers, avocets and stilts, sandpipers, snipes, and phalaropes.

The majority of shorebird species are associated with estuarine and freshwater wetlands and eat small invertebrates picked out of mud or exposed soil. Different lengths of bills enable different species to feed in the same habitat without competing for food. Many shorebirds have sensitive nerve endings at the end of their bills which enable them to detect prey items hidden in mud or soft soil. In general, shorebirds have low reproductive potential laying four or fewer eggs with many species rarely, if ever, re-nesting. The eggs and chicks of shorebirds are often eaten by predators which also influences shorebird reproductive potential. Many species of shorebirds migrate over a 1000 miles between nesting and over-wintering sites in the spring and fall. During migration, they concentrate and depend on a few stopover sites to “refuel”. As a result, shorebirds are vulnerable to changes in the quality and quantity of wetland habitats.

In Washington, shorebirds occur as year-round residents, breeding or summer residents, spring and/or fall migrants, and migrants that over-winter in the region but nest in habitats to the north. Some species, such as the killdeer and spotted sandpiper, have both resident and migrant sub-populations.

The vast majority of wintering and migratory shorebirds in Washington are found in coastal estuaries but also use other habitat types. These important habitats for Washignton’s shorebirds include the Columbia River estuary, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor, coastal Washington beaches, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, the San Juan Islands, and the Greater Puget Sound region.

WDFW shorebird research is focused on species status and trends, identifying mechanisms for decline and evaluating restoration and recovery efforts.

For further information on Washington’s shorebirds visit, Management Recommendations for Washington’s Priority Species Volume IV: Birds (Shorebird chapter)