Waders and Shorebirds

Waders or shorebirds belong to the large order of Charadriiformes. This group of birds shows a wide variety of many different species. From an ornithological perspective and also from the vew of a wildlife photographer these birds are both interesting and also challenging when capturing them.

Identification is all but easy, I would say it is difficult to correctly identify waders. There is a lot to learn about these birds but even watching them when they go about their business gives a lot of pleasure.

This article provides some basic reading on waders and shorebirds. What do they have in common and where to watch them. Also I provide the taxonomy of the species in the Western Palearctic.

oystercatcher feeding on grassland

What are Waders all about?

In fact, with waders we are talking about quite a number of different families, which are all covered by a single term. The relevant families are: Oystercatcher, Stilts and Avocets, Thick-knees, Coursers and Pratincoles, Plovers and Sandpipers, Stints, Godwits, Curlews, Snipes and Phalropes.

Common Features of Waders (Charadriiformes)

What do waders have all in common?

  • long-legged birds
  • mainly living near water, close to shorelines, on bogs and in marshland
  • outside breeding season living in large flocks
  • during migration and in winter living on tidal mudlats and seaweeds along shorelines
  • Waders feed on insects, worms, mollucs and crustaceans, only a few also on plants and small fish
  • Nests are mainly shallow scrapes on the ground
  • freshly hatched young immediately leave the nest and are mostly tended by both parents
oystercatcher with chicken feeding on beach
Oystercatcher with young chicken feeding on seaweed

Waders in the Western Palearctic

Because of the large numbers of species I can only provide an oversight of the species which are common to the Western Palearctic region, to keep it short and simple. The Western Palearctic vocers the Atlantic islands, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East and from there furthe up north to the Caucasus. Most of us will probably not manage to travel to all the spots available in that vast area. The species are as follows:

pied avocdet
Pied Avocet


  • Oystercatcher (Haematopus astralegus)
  • Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
  • Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
  • Eurasian Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)
  • Senegal Thick-knee (Burhinus senegalensis)
  • Cream-coloured Courser (Glareola pratincola)
  • Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni)
black-winged stilt
Black-winged Stilt

Plovers and Lapwings

  • Little-ringed Plover (Charadrius dubis)
  • Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
  • Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  • Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
  • Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecuarius)
  • Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
  • Great Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
  • Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)
  • Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus)
  • European Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
  • Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica)
  • Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
  • Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus)
  • Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
  • Socicable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius)
  • White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus)
Northern Lapwing bathing

Sandpipers, Stints, Curlews, Snipes et al

  • Red Knot (Calidris canutus)
  • Sanderling (Calidris alba)
  • Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
  • Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
  • Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
  • Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)
  • Temminck’s Tint (Calidris temminckii)
  • Little STint (Calidris minuta)
  • Long-toed Stint (Calidris subminuta)
  • Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
  • Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
  • Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
  • Common Sandpiper (Acitis hypoleucus)
  • Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
  • Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
  • Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
  • Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
  • Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)
  • Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
  • Bar-tailed Godwit (LImosa lapponica)
  • Eurasian Curlew (Numenicus arquata)
  • Whimbrel (Numenicus phaeopus)
  • Eurasian Woodcock (Scolapax rusticola)
  • Great Snipe (Gallinago media)
  • Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
  • Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)
  • Red Phalraope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
  • Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)
  • Ruff (Philomachus pugnux)
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotus)
  • Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata)
Common Sniper
Common Sniper
ruddy turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone

Where to watch Waders

Waders and Shorebirds can watched at any place adjacent to water, shores, bogs and marshlands. Shorelines include dunes, the dune vegetation adjacent to the hinterland, brackish waters, any kind of wetlands, large bodies of water and places alongside riverbanks. Even former sewage fields have become home to waders nowadays. However, the best chaneds of watching larger numbers of waders are along shorelines.

The Wadden Sea is the number one spot in Europe where we can watch waders during all seasons with probably the highest numbers between August to November and again in spring between February to May.

Another spot in the southern North Sea, where large numbers of waders stay during migration is the German island of Heligoland. This area is one of the most important resting places for migratory birds in the hole of Europe and it is worth toing there at least twice a year for observing and takting shots of the birds.

red knot
Red Knot

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