2016-07-28 / Nature

Migrant Shorebirds Make Aquidneck Island Pit Stop

By Jack Kelly


The great blue heron is a majestic wading bird standing four feet tall and possessing a wingspan of six feet. This species eats mostly small fish but also forages for reptiles, amphibians, small birds, crabs, and will even hunt in dry fields for small rodents. It is a patient hunter and will stand perfectly still for long periods of time while waiting for prey to come close. The great blue heron is a majestic wading bird standing four feet tall and possessing a wingspan of six feet. This species eats mostly small fish but also forages for reptiles, amphibians, small birds, crabs, and will even hunt in dry fields for small rodents. It is a patient hunter and will stand perfectly still for long periods of time while waiting for prey to come close. The sandy beaches and rocky shorelines of Aquidneck Island are witnessing the arrival of a multitude of early shorebird migrants. Many of these long-distance voyagers, which breed and nest in the Arctic Circle, are returning to their wintering grounds in South America. Despite their efforts, the birds either failed to mate or lost their nests or young to predators. Because the nesting season is short, barely nine weeks, there is no time for renesting and the unlucky leave the region to begin the southward movement.

Locally-nesting shorebirds, including willets, spotted sandpipers, American woodcocks, piping plovers, killdeers, and the unique American oystercatcher have time to renest if they were unsuccessful earlier, and the pair of piping plovers at Third Beach are a fine example of this practice of avian tenacity. Having lost their eggs to predators on their first three tries, the pair finally hatched a brood of four chicks almost two weeks ago.


A great egret lands in the restored salt marshes adjacent to Third Beach. This species hunts slowly and deliberately, using its strong, whip-like neck to spear prey. A great egret lands in the restored salt marshes adjacent to Third Beach. This species hunts slowly and deliberately, using its strong, whip-like neck to spear prey. One of the advantages for wildlife enthusiasts at this time of the year is observing these species while they are still displaying some of their striking breeding colors. As the season progresses, the birds develop their dull winter plumages.

While mixed flocks of shorebirds may be sighted on any of the area’s sandy or rocky shorelines, certain viewing spots may offer a better result. Third Beach and Sachuest Beach may offer early morning rewards, but one of the top spots at this time of year is the rocky shoreline at Brenton Point State Park. Mixed flocks may hold up to 12 different species at any given time, with special visitors or uncommon birds included.


The green heron forages in secluded locations, stalking small fish, amphibians, and other prey from a perch just above the water’s surface or while moving slowly through shallow waters. The green heron forages in secluded locations, stalking small fish, amphibians, and other prey from a perch just above the water’s surface or while moving slowly through shallow waters. One of the added bonuses of searching wetlands and salt marshes for shorebirds is sighting members of the heron family, such as great egrets, snowy egrets, green herons and great blue herons. These colorful birds forage for small fish, crabs, amphibians, and other prey in wetlands.

This is a special time of year for anyone wishing to begin a relationship with nature.


This lesser yellowlegs was foraging along Third Beach. It mostly picks or chases invertebrates or small fish in shallow salt or fresh water. It also swims after prey in slightly deeper waters. 
Photos by Jack Kelly This lesser yellowlegs was foraging along Third Beach. It mostly picks or chases invertebrates or small fish in shallow salt or fresh water. It also swims after prey in slightly deeper waters. Photos by Jack Kelly For more information on sightings, visit the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s website, asri.com, or call 401-949-5454. For more information on any avian species, visit allaboutbirds.org.

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