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Down by the Sea

When you carve avocets, curlews, and whimbrels, you know you're going to get a big bill.

Photography by Michael H Francis

Three hundred and sixty degrees of avocet.

Shorebirds: because of similarities in size and coloration and a frustrating habit of rapidly flying just out of easy sight range, these transient migrants become the bane of many bird watchers. When they are not flying rapidly away from an observer, they sit far out in farm fields or marshes or run along distant shorelines so they look like distant blobs of brown fluff. If you are lucky enough to get a good look at these challenging birds, they often seem to be little more than a buff or brown bundle of feathers with few other distinguishing characteristics. 

However, a few shorebirds are so large, so distinctive, and have one attribute so unique that it's difficult to confuse them with any other species. These unusual birds are the avocets, the curlews, and the whimbrels. Each of these shorebirds has a long, curved bill that looks so outlandish that it gives these creatures a special place in the avian world. 

This article is from the Summer 2010 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.

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