Shorebirds and seabirds in the Lowcountry

Shorebirds and seabirds help keep our beaches wild, healthy and beautiful.

Story By Sheila Paz

The sea islands of Beaufort County are home to many native shorebirds and seabirds. Our coastal areas are also a preferred pit stop for many migratory birds traveling along the Great Atlantic Flyway. Here are some of our favorite flocks of a feather you’ll likely see on your next outdoor adventure. 

American Avocet

When: Winter

Where: Shallow freshwater, saltwater wetlands

Did you know? They have a signature feeding style called “scything” and sweep their bill from side to side as they wade through the water. 

Black-necked Stilt in Marsh

Black-necked Stilt

When: All year 

Where: Mudflats, grassy marshes, shallow lakes, retaining ponds

Did you know? A group of black-necked stilts will group around a predator and jump, hop or flap to drive away them away. 

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) foraging in a shallow lagoon - Pinellas County, Florida

Greater Yellowlegs

When: Winter

Where: Fresh and brackish wetlands. They love when there are shrubs and small trees nearby. 

Did you know? In the winter and migration season, they eat small fish, crustaceans and snails but during the breeding season they eat insects and insect larvae. 

Semipalmated plover, Charadrius semipalmatus, Single bird by water, Baja California, Mexico, January 2020

Semipalmated Plover

When: Winter

Where: Sandy beaches, golf courses, salt marshes

Did you know? These birds have been known to swim across channels while foraging for food. 


When: All year

Where: Riverbanks, mudflats, shores

Did you know? They will pretend to have an injured wing in order to lure predators away from their nests. 

Lesser Yellowlegs

When: Winter

Where: Marshes, mudflats, ponds, coastal estuaries

Did you know? Female yellow legs leave the nest before the chicks can fly, leaving the males to protect the chicks.  

A closeup image of a Spotted Sandpiper feeding in a marshland.

Spotted Sandpiper

When: Winter

Where: Seashores, mudflats, breakwaters

Did you know? They walk quickly, crouch low and dart toward their prey while bobbing their tails up and down.


When: All year 

Where: Beaches, bays, rocky coastal zones

Did you know? They pretend to be disabled by a broken wing in order to draw attention to themselves and lure predators away from their eggs or chicks.

Adult ruddy turnstone in breeding plumage standing in shallow water.

Ruddy Turnstone

When: Winter

Where: Sandy beaches, shorelines, mudflats

Did you know? They flip objects like shells and stones to find food underneath. 

A Dunlin is walking in the shallow water. Also known as a Red-backed Sandpiper. Ashbridges Bay Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


When: Winter

Where: Mudflats, drainage ponds, flooded areas. 

Did you know? They will crossbreed with different species of sandpipers

Least sandpiper in salt marsh.

Least Sandpiper

When: Winter

Where: Mudflats, grass marshes, rain pools, shores

Did you know? At less than six inches long, they are the smallest shorebird in SC. 

A Wilson's Snipe calls from a fence post in a marsh in the Colorado foothills.

Wilson’s Snipe

When: Winter

Where: Wet, marshy habitats

Did you know? As they probe in the mud, they can sense prey with the tip of their bill. 

American Oystercatcher

When: All year 

Where: Sandy beaches with lots of shells for nesting. 

Did you know? As the name implies, these birds love to eat clams, oysters and mussels. 

Long-billed Dowitcher walking in shallow water

Long-billed Dowitcher

When: Winter

Where: Muddy substrate areas, water less than 3 inches deep 

Did you know? They often feed in darkness
and have great night vision. 

Short-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) landing in water.

Short-billed Dowitcher

When: Winter

Where: Saltwater and brackish waters, estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, ponds

Did you know? The males usually take care of the chicks when they hatch.

American woodcock on the ground

American Woodcock

When: All year

Where: Forests, wet meadows

Did you know? Their eyes are placed further back, giving them almost a 360-degree field of vision. 

Brown Pelican

When: All year

Where: Creeks, sounds, salt bays, beaches, oceans 

Did you know? They can dive into the water from as high as 65 feet. 

Red knot. Protect the endangered species, biological diversity theme.3rd March, world day of endangered species.

Red Knot

When: Winter

Where: Marshes, sandy beaches, lagoons, mudflats

Did you know? They travel more than 9,000 miles from the Arctic to the southern tip of South Africa. 

Pluvialis squatarola, Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

When: Winter

Where: Sandy beaches, tidal flats 

Did you know? They are the only plovers that have a hind toe.

Royal Tern

When: All year 

Where: Coasts, sandy beaches, salt bays

Did you know? A group of terns is a “highness.” 

Sandwich Terns Courtship Display Texas

Sandwich Tern

When: Fall/winter 

Where: Sandy barrier beaches, barrier islands

Did you know? The first was found in the town of Sandwich, England. 

Gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) Malaga, Spain

Gull-billed Tern

When: Summer

Where: Salt marshes, fields, coastal bays

Did you know? While other terns rely heavily on fish, this tern mainly eats insects. 

Pair of Laughing Gulls (Larus atricilla) on a beach on Cumberland Island Georgia

Laughing Gull

When: All year 

Where: Salt marshes, piers, beaches

Did you know? They get their name from their high-pitched calls that sound like “ha-ha-ha.”


When: Winter

Where: Beach, tide flats, lake shores

Did you know? They are the only sandpiper
that is missing a hind toe.

Black Skimmer

When: All year

Where: Lagoons, estuaries, inlets, sheltered bays

Did you know? They are crepuscular — active at dawn and dusk. 

American Bittern

When: Winter

Where: Marshes, reedy lakes, shallow wetlands, open shallow water

Did you know? These stealthy carnivores stand motionless amid tall marsh vegetation while looking for fish, frogs and insects.

Roseate Spoonbill

When: Winter and spring

Where: Coastal marshes, lagoons, mudflats, mangrove keys

Did you know? Like flamingos, spoonbills get their pink and sometimes red coloring from the crustaceans they eat. 

Wood Stork

When: All year 

Where: Cypress swamps, marshes, ponds, lagoons

Did you know? Studies have found that they can snap their beaks closed at a speed of 0.25 milliseconds, making their reflex action the fastest in the animal kingdom. Their beaks snap closed faster than a human blinks. 

Kingfisher (Alcedo at this) common kingfisher, bird


When: All year

Where: Streams, lakes, bays, near the coast

Did you know? These birds live on every continent except Antarctica. 

Double-crested Cormorants

When: All year 

Where: Coasts, bays, lakes, rivers

Did you know? Ukai is a traditional fishing method using trained cormorants to fish. Fishermen tie a snare by the base of the bird’s throat, preventing them from swallowing the bigger fish they catch.

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