Turnstones, Knots and Ruffs are all members of the Scolopacidae, or Sandpiper family. Most, but not all, are shore birds, and they have some of the most interesting nesting, courting, and feeding habits you will ever see. Look for them while bird watching in mud flats, near streams or marshes, and sometimes even in large fields. Some are colorful, some are plain, but all are beautiful in their own way. For tips on finding and identifying just a few of the Scolopacidae you may see while bird watching in Houston, Texas, see below.
Ruddy Turnstone. These birds earned their name from their feedings habits; a Ruddy Turnstone will walk along the beach or mudflats, turning over shells, seaweed and rocks to look for food. Bolivar Flats is a good bird watching spot to look for these birds, which can often be found hanging around with Black-bellied Plovers. They are common in Houston, Texas from the fall through the spring. Identify this stocky bird from the bold black and white patterns on its face, and its orange legs.
Red Knot. Look for this large, chunky bird while bird watching along the mud flats of Houston, Texas; they can also be found on sandy beaches. They have reddish-brown necks and heads that turn to gray in the winter. Red Knots are similar to Dowitchers but are smaller and have shorter bills.
Sanderling. Bolivar Flats is a good bird watching spot to look for these sandpipers. Look for them racing after retreating waves looking for food (and then running away). These birds are common in Houston, Texas from September through May. You’ll recognize them from their white wingbars, bordered in black; otherwise they are very pale little birds overall. Sanderlings travel in flocks and like to rest in little groups.
Dunlin. This sandpiper prefers coastal mudflats, and is common in Houston, Texas in the fall, winter and spring. They have long black bills that curve downward at the very end. Although named for their dun coloring in the winter, in spring they have very bright red backs and black bellies that you will easily recognize while bird watching. Look for them probing in mud or wet sand for food.
Ruff. Look for this sandpiper in marshes and flooded fields while bird watching in Houston, Texas. It is a very rare migrant bird but it has been sighted in Houston, Texas. They have dramatic collars that consist of ruffles of feathers that can range from black to white to orange.
Short-billed Dowitcher. This sandpiper prefers the shallow edges of salt marshes of Houston, Texas, where you may see it probing in the water for food. Recognize it while bird watching from its extremely long bill, which is twice as long as its head. It also has long, pale legs. This bird is common in Houston, Texas in the fall, winter and spring.
Wilson’s Snipe. Look for this small, stocky sandpiper in marshes and damp fields while bird watching in Houston, Texas. It has a long bill that it uses to probe for insects in the ground, and a brown body with striping on its head and back. This sandpiper is common from October through April in Houston, Texas.
American Woodcock. A denizen of thickets in Houston, Texas, look for this secretive bird in the early evening while bird watching. This sandpiper relative hunts mostly at night, and also has an amazing courtship dance that it performs only during the evening. It is small and chunky, with brown and black feathers that conceal it very well. They have been seen at Memorial and Bear Creek Park.
Wilson’s Phalarope. Bolivar Flats and Anahuac National Wildlife Reserve are good bird watching spots to look for this sandpiper. They can be found swimming in circles in the water to create whirlpools, after which they dip their bill into the center to catch fish and other prey. Identify them while bird watching from their straight black bills, white eyebrows, and reddish necks and flanks. They can be found in the marshes and lakes in Houston, Texas.