Migratory Birds You May Spot on Tybee in Winter
During snowbird season, people aren’t the only creatures heading down South to escape frigid winters in other parts of the country. We also welcome our flying friends who flock to our more temperate shores in the winter. Tybee is a great place to spot all kinds of migratory birds year-round, but several species can only be found on the Georgia coast during the cooler months. Quite a few water fowl and shorebirds come to visit this time of year. So, keep an eye out for these migratory birds that frequent Tybee in winter.
Buffleheads are small ducks with distinctive white patches and a dark grey bill. They live throughout North America and Canada and head to warmer shores during the winter, typically flying under the cover of night. Depending on their geographic location, some head to the Pacific Coast and Gulf Coast, while others come our way to the Atlantic Coast.
Large sea ducks with sleek bodies and thin red bills, mergansers are common in North America and Europe. In the U.S., they are found in the eastern part of the country and migrate to the South and Southwest in winter. They typically arrive down South in late fall, just before winter ice appears in colder parts of the country.
Known for their distinctive call, loons are aquatic birds that change their appearance according to seasonal climate. In the summer, they are spotted with black and white with a dark iridescent head. In the colder months, their summer plumage is replaced with a gray and white winter coat. Loons in western Canada and Alaska head to the Pacific Coast during the winter. Some escape to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. And those in eastern Canada migrate to the Atlantic Coast.
The sanderling is one of the most ubiquitous shorebirds, easy to find on beaches all over the world during the fall and spring. The stout bird is a type of sandpiper, with brownish, grey plumage, a white belly and short black legs.
A close relative of the sandpiper, turnstones are stocky shorebirds with a stout upturned bill and orange legs. They are named for their behavior of overturning stones to find food. They migrate long distances and have been spotted as far south as South Africa and Australia. Turnstones are coastal birds that you won’t see in the water. You will, however, find them on the beach and rocky shores.
Dunlins are stocky shorebirds with a long drooping bill, which they use to jab, probe and pick at aquatic invertebrates, their food of choice. These small waders spend their winters in coastal estuaries, lagoons and other wetland environments. Dunlins that migrate to the Atlantic Coast typically come from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.
A large family of waders, sandpipers are distinguished by their long bodies and legs and narrow wings. They have dull brown or gray plumage, but may display brighter colors during breeding season. Sandpipers have sensitive beaks that allow them to feel the sand as they probe for food. They are found all over the world except for Antarctica and the driest deserts. When migrating for winter, they are known to fly nearly 2,000 miles nonstop.
A type of sandpiper, Red Knots are plump shorebirds with vibrant burnt orange underparts. They are found all over the world except Antarctica. Unfortunately, their eastern U.S. population is declining in part due to unsustainable harvesting of horseshoe crabs. Contemporarily, they are the face of the shorebird conservation effort.
Large and stocky with long legs and thick bills, willets are a common sight on beaches, coastlines and marshes. Some hang around the East Coast in the winter while others migrate to Central and South America. The willet has an onomatopoeic name that refers to its shrill territorial song.
Plovers are wading birds that are found across the globe except for the Sahara and the polar regions. Plovers are relatively small with short bills. Unlike other waders, plovers rely on their sight rather than feel to hunt. They employ a run-and-pause technique in the search for food. There are many species of plover, and the ones that frequent Tybee include the black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, and the endangered piping plover.
Distinguished by their long bill, Dowitchers are medium-sized shorebirds that can be found wintering in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. They are known to inhabit small ponds, marshes, sewage treatment facilities and other freshwater environments. A dowitcher’s bill has tactile receptors that allows it to find prey by touch. Another interesting fact is that only male dowitchers care for young once they hatch.
Where to Birdwatch
Tybee’s beaches and marshlands are prime locations to spot our winged winter friends. For more detailed information about the island’s best Migratory bird watching locations, check out our Birding and Nature Trails page.
Learn More about birding on Tybee at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.