western willet resting on beach by Doug Alderson

By Doug Alderson, Director of Outreach & Advocacy

The true snowbirds have arrived—migratory birds!

Recently, along the St. George Island public beach near the lighthouse, several snowbirds were seen. They included the western willet, a long-legged bird with a long straight bill. Western willets are winter visitors who feed in the swash zone for mole crabs and coquina clams. They breed on the prairies of the northern United States and southern Canada. Eastern willets, on the other hand, are found in late spring and summer and are seen more in grassy dunes and saltmarsh, where they nest.

A smaller bird that is often seen racing in and out of the surf is the sanderling, a type of sandpiper. They are probing for mole crabs and other prey. Amazingly, this little bird migrates north in spring to nest on the Arctic tundra, traveling up to eight thousand miles between its winter and summer homes!

Another fun bird to watch is the ruddy turnstone, which receives its name from flicking aside stones, shells and other objects in search of tasty treats. This is another bird that breeds in the Arctic, a true snowbird! According to Cornell, flight speeds of turnstones average between 27 and 47 miles per hour.

These are just a few of our winter visitors, all found within a mile of the St. George Lighthouse. Please do not disturb them because they are pursuing an important task—to store fat for their long journeys ahead.

Sanderling running in and out of the surf by Doug Alderson


nonbreeding adult sanderling by Doug Alderson


ruddy turnstone flipping debris in sand by Doug Alderson
ruddy turnstone by Doug Alderson
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