Hotline Photos

Mystery Shorebird

Jordan River Parkway  (near model airplane park)
Utah County
Jordan River CBC,  January 1, 2008; 1:40PM

E-mail from Deedee OŽbrien  3 Jan 2008):

Hi Kristin,
Please help me identify this shorebird seen today on the Jordan River Parkway in Utah County near the model airplane park.

The most likely ID is a Spotted Sandpiper (overall even brown color of back and head and distinctly white belly), but there are a couple things I question. First, it did not bob. Secondly, the legs and bill appeared dark to me, and thirdly, the bill tapered and seemed to curve down slightly.

The second bird in photo 1 is a snipe, for size comparison. Photo 3 shows a couple of lines across the white near the brown bib.

Thanks so much. Doug Stark and I were the only ones to see this bird. Pomera had turned back toward the car earlier.

Analysis by Kris Prudy:


I feel reasonably confident now that your mystery shorebird is a Dunlin. Supporting the ID first are your observations, which were important in making the call:  overall even brown color of back and head and distinctly white belly it did not bob the legs and bill appeared dark the bill tapered and seemed to curve down slightly If you have The Shorebird Guide, check page 181, photo 3, for the overall structure and gray hooded appearance of a winter-plumaged Dunlin, which looks very good for your bird. Here's another resource in case you don't have that book:

After you launch the link above, press "Next" at the bottom for an additional picture of a winter Dunlin.

Dunlins are short-necked and their wingtips nearly match the length of their tails. Of course, they have a dark, longer, slightly drooping bill.  They're about 2 inches shorter than a snipe, and I think the length is
good for the comparison shot you provided. Snipe have larger overall bodies and of course, the length of their bills will make up some of that larger size.

Sibley shows the darker upper breast color to be more diffuse; The Shorebird Guide shows it to be more strongly demarcated as in your bird and says in a caption: "nonbreeding birds have a gray-hooded appearance".

I lightened and zoomed in on features that show slight streaking or spotting below (hope those weren't photo artifacts), which is good for an adult winter Dunlin. I also thought I could see some subtle color changes on the wing coverts, in other words, they didn't appear as smoothly brown as the rest of the upperparts.

My only other choice was the very rare Curlew Sandpiper, and I think a Curlew would have a more strongly decurved bill, a stronger white supercilium, longer legs and my perception that the legs are dark but not jet-black as a Curlew's would be.

I encourage you to seek more opinions including perhaps sending your pics to Milt for posting on the website so other people can weigh in. Even if they come up with a different conclusion, analyzing a quiz bird helps make us better birders.

Finally, if the ID holds up over time, this is a great bird for an inland winter CBC. Congratulations! Dunlins winter in great numbers along the coasts, but not very frequently inland.

Let me know what you think.


  Photos sent in by Deedee OŽbrien

Wilson's Snipe on the left 

Enlargement of above 

Enlargement of above 

Enlargement of above 

Enlargement of above 



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