Shorebird migration now in full swing

Shorebird migration now in full swing

Willets, marbled godwits and Hudsonian godwits were seen on July 19 along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Indiana. It is always exciting to see any one of these three large, long-billed shorebirds, let alone finding all three in the same flock. Excellent photos of the birds in flight and on the beach were posted on the Indiana birding website. A second post included photos of five stilt sandpipers at an inland shorebird site.

The month of June and the first half of July seemed very quiet as far as birding reports went. With no breeding bird surveys being done this year, birders have been mainly enjoying the nesting season at home while perhaps dreaming of birding trips when and if the world ever returns to some semblance of normal. So it was good to see shorebird reports starting to come in. Additionally, the roseate spoonbill that has been entertaining folks for several weeks in Indiana showed no sign of leaving.

Several of us have still been talking about heading down to Southern Indiana to see some of the birds we have never seen in the state. However, with COVID-19 numbers still going up every week, that trip doesn’t seem likely or advisable this year. For now, the routine continues to be the same — walking or biking along the local trails, maintaining safe distances from other folks who are enjoying being outside.

I want to return to the godwits and willets for the rest of this column. Hudsonian godwits have always been rare in much of the country. They nest in the far north, near tree-line in Alaska and Canada. They head south any time from early July to late fall and are long-distance migrants, flying as far as 5,000 miles to Southern South America. Of all the migratory birds that fly south in the winter, only several dozen go as far south as Hudsonian godwits.

Marbled godwits also migrate south over many months, starting in early July. They don’t fly as far, breeding in Canada south to the Dakotas and Montana and wintering in the Southern U.S. and as far south as Central America.

Both species of godwits are beautiful birds to behold with long, slightly up-turned bills. Marbled godwits are larger, 16-19 inches, compared to 14-16 inches for Hudsonians.

The third large shorebird that has been seen recently along Lake Michigan is the willet. There are eastern and western populations of willets with the western being slightly larger, but overall, they are similar in size to the godwits. Eastern willets are well-known to birders who visit Florida in the winter. These plain-looking, large shorebirds are suddenly striking when they raise their wings or take flight, with the black-and-white wing-patches making them instantly identifiable.

For the next number of months, shorebirds will continue to pass through our area. I hope you get to see some of them.

Good birding and stay safe.

Email Bruce Glick at

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