Shorebirds imply an association with bodies of water. Typically they refer to birds found along shallow waters, mudflats, and sandy or rocky shorelines. Beaches and oceans come to mind when we hear the call of seagulls. In landlocked Colorado, we have approximately 23 species of birds that wade in water and live close by lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and creeks. Common shorebirds in Denver are Killdeers and Ring-billed Gulls.
The Killdeer is a frequently encountered mid-sized bird like the American Robin. It is often referred to in the context of size comparisons among the other shorebirds, i.e. smaller or larger than a Killdeer. The smallest shorebird in and around Denver is the sparrow-sized Least Sandpiper, measuring only 6 inches in length, compared to the largest, the 23-inch Long-billed Curlew.
The Killdeer is brown above and white below with 2 black bands across the breast. The legs and tail are relatively long.
Adults perform the broken-wing act to distract predators from their nest and chicks. The newly hatched Killdeer are precocial in their ability to leave the nest to feed and run as soon as their feathers dry. Flight is delayed for 30 days. They have one black breast band instead of the two in adults.
The Killdeer is tolerant to humans and uses whatever habitat man provides, such as fields, pastures, lawns, airports, and unpaved roads. It also likes water’s edge and is often found near riverbanks, lake shores, and mudflats.
The Ring-billed Gulls are ubiquitous, widespread, and well-adapted to humans as well. We encounter them in parking lots, golf courses, parks, fields, landfills, garbage dumps, and open spaces close to water.
Like most gulls, shades of gray (back and wings) and white (head, breast, and tail) with some black (wingtips) are the predominate colors of adult plumage. The Ring-billed gull has a black band encircling a yellow bill, yellow legs and feet, and pale eyes.
Juvenile birds appear quite different, with brown and white patchwork throughout plus varying amounts of streaking and spotting on the head, neck, and underparts. Gradual transition to adult plumage takes over three years for the Ring-billed Gull.
They are omnivorous and feast on crayfish in Lake Ladora at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. In the urban setting, we encounter them in parking lots of fast-food restaurants scavenging dropped, discarded, or leftover food scraps.
Bird Walks September 3 and October 1. Two options: 7:30–10am or 8–10am (choose a 2-hour or a 2.5-hour walk.) Both walks are free but you must RSVP at www.blufflake.org/birdwatching. All are welcome. Bring your own binoculars, or use one of their pairs. 11255 MLK Blvd. Search FrontPorchNE.com for “Bird Sightings” to see all the past bird stories and photos from George Ho.