I’ve deliberately opted for the North American blanket term of ‘shorebirds’, rather than the more commonly used ‘waders’ description, as I believe it helps to differentiate this group from the long-legged waders such as herons.


Subject to where information is sourced, there are around 224 different species of shorebird within this large order normally listed under 12 to 15 families. Some of these families contain only a few, if not just a single, species, whereas the two largest, Charadriidae and Scolopacidae, include almost three quarters of the total number. However, as with many other groups of birds, it’s difficult to find two lists that completely agree. Consequently, the information contained here is purely my attempt at producing a reasonably accurate and current list for personal reference.

The following is a listing of all 15 families in a slightly adjusted systematic order, with their suborders and family names as the “Taxonomy in Flux” checklist, explained under my title 'understanding bird orders and families' :-

SUBORDER : Chionidi
       Pluvianellidae (Magellanic Plover) - a monotypic species
       Chionidae (Sheathbills) - 2 species under a single genus
       Burhinidae (Thick-knees) - 10 species under 2 genera

SUBORDER : Charadrii
       Ibidorhynchidae (Ibisbill) - a monotypic species
       Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers) - 11 species under a single genus
       Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets) - 9 species under 3 genera
       Pluvianidae (Egyptian Plover) - a monotypic species
       Pluvialidae (Golden Plovers) - 4 species under a single genus (see note below)
       Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings) - 62 species under 13 genera within 3 subfamilies (see below)

SUBORDER : Limicoli
       Thinocoridae (Seedsnipes) - 4 species under 2 genera
       Rostratulidae (Painted-snipes) - 3 species under 2 genera
       Jacanidae (Jacanas) - 8 species under 6 genera
       Scolopacidae (general waders) - 90 species under 15 genera within 5 subfamilies (see below)

       Dromadidae (Crab Plover) - a monotypic species
       Glareolidae (Pratincoles and Coursers) - 17 species under 3 genera

The above list deliberately excludes suborder Turnici containing the Buttonquail family Turnicidae, which was recently moved into the order CHARADRIIFORMES, as these birds are not classed as actual shorebirds. Also the Plains Wanderer family Pedionmidae, which should be included in the suborder Limicoli, as this particular monotypic species is actually a quail-like bird rather than a true wader.

Two of the above listed families contain subfamilies, which are :-

Subfamilies of Charadriidae
       Charadriinae (Plovers and Dotterels)
       Vanellinae (Lapwings)
       Anarhynchinae (mainly Plovers)

Subfamilies of Scolopacidae
       Numeniinae (Curlews)
       Limosinae (Godwits)
       Arenariinae (Turnstones, Calidrid Sandpipers and related waders such as Knot, Ruff, Sanderling and Dunlin)
       Tringinae (Pharalopes, freshwater Sandpipers, Shanks and Tattlers)
       Scolopacinae (Dowitchers, Snipe and Woodcock)

Note : as a result of new data the genus Pluvialis (Golden Plovers, including the Grey Plover) has recently been moved into a new family Pluvialidae as shown above, but for convenience of referral I have consciously linked it in the following list to its original family Charadriidae.

Whilst most of these 'shorebird' species are associated with wetland or coastal environments, a few are not. As you start to study the different species that are incorporated within this large order you quickly realise that the blanket-term of shorebird or wader is actually very misleading as certain species, with Stone Curlew and Courser being two prime examples, actually avoiding water and favouring dry habitats, and with some of the other species preferring short grassland rather than the shoreline.

The smallest species in the group is the Least Sandpiper, and the largest the Far Eastern Curlew.

The following is an abridged ‘species by family’ list in the same order as that shown above. I’ve included all families, with the exception of Pluvialidae, together with their subfamilies and some associated notes regarding the number of species and genera. However, to avoid having a very long list including many individual species that I am unlikely to encounter, I have only shown selected species. The individual species (those that are indented and bulleted, and shown with their scientific name) that I’ve personally seen and photographed have been highlighted (currently 63no). The list will be updated if, or when, I encounter anything new.

SUBORDER : Chionidi, consisting 3 familes Pluvianellidae, Chionidae and Burhinidae

Megellanic Plover
A rare wader found only in the southernmost areas of South America.

Family : Pluvianellidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera

White plumaged plump waders, the only endemic breeding species from the Antarctic.

Family : Chionidae, with 2 species under a single genus

Thick-knees / Stone Curlews
Despite being classed as ‘waders’, many of the species within this family have a preference for arid or semi-arid
habitats. Some of the Stone Curlews are also known as Dikkops.

Family : Burhinidae, with 10 species under 2 genera, including :-
  • Eurasian Stone-Curlew - Burhinus oedicnemus
  • Senegal Thick-knee - Burhinus senegalensis
  • Water Thick-knee - Burhinus vermiculatus
  • Spotted Thick-knee - Burhinus capensis, also known as the Cape Thick-knee

SUBORDER : Charadrii, consisting 6 families Ibidorhynchidae, Haematopodidae, Recurvirostridae, Pluvianidae, Pluvialidae
and Charadriidae

An unusual looking upland wader from central Asia, whose range is mainly restricted to the glacial riverbeds of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau.

Family : Ibidorhynchidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera

A group of similar looking bulky waders, which are found on coasts almost worldwide, albeit that a couple of the species, including the Eurasian Oystercatcher, breed inland.

Family : Haematopodidae, with 11 species under a single genera including :-
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
  • American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus

Stilts & Avocets
Stilts and Avocets are both long-legged, long-billed, waders that frequent brackish or saline wetlands in warm or hot climates. Stilts being so named because of their very long legs. Avocets have slender upcurved bills, whereas Stilts are almost straight.

Family : Recurvirostridae, with 3-5 species of Stilt and 4 species of Avocet under 3 genera, including :-
  • Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
  • White-backed Stilt - Himantopus melanurus, or subspecies Himantopus himantopus melanurus
  • White-headed Stilt - Himantopus leucocephalus, or probably subspecies Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus
  • Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus, or subspecies Himantopus himantopus mexicanus
  • Black Stilt - Himantopus novaezelandiae (the rarest wading bird in the world)
  • Banded Stilt - Cladorhynchus leucocephalus
  • Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
  • American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana

Egyptian Plover
A striking unmistakable plover that was formerly placed in the Pratincole and Courser family Glareolidae.

Family : Pluvianidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera

Plovers and Lapwings
A widely distributed group of over 40 species generally called plover or dotterel, plus a further 24 related species known as lapwings, which are effectively large crested plovers.

Family : Pluvialidae, with 4 species under a single genus
  • European Golden Plover - Pluvialis apricaria
  • Pacific Golden Plover - Pluvialis fulva
  • American Golden Plover - Pluvialis dominica
  • Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola, also known as the Black-bellied Plover

Family : Charadriidae, recently reorganized, containing 62 species in 13 genera, split into 3 subfamilies

Subfamily : Charadriinae, reduced, now with just 15 species under 7 genera, including :-
  • Eurasian Dotterel - Eudromias morinellus, formerly Charadrius morinellus
  • Three-banded Plover - Afroxyechus tricollaris, formerly Charadrius tricollaris
  • Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus
  • Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
  • Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus
  • Piping Plover - Charadrius melodus
  • Little Ringed Plover - Thiornis dubius, formerly Charadrius dubius
     It should be noted that as part of the recent reorganisation of CHARADRIIFORMES, genus Charadrius has been stripped
     of nearly all its previous 30 or so species, leaving just the 4 listed above.

Subfamily : Vanellinae (Lapwings), with 23 extant species under a single genus, including :-
  • Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
  • Blacksmith Lapwing - Vanellus armatus
  • Senegal Lapwing - Vanellus lugubris, also known as the Lesser Black-winged Lapwing
  • African Wattled Lapwing - Vanellus senegallus, also known as the Senegal Wattled Plover
  • Spur-winged Lapwing - Vanellus spinosus, also known as the Spur-winged Plover
  • Black-headed Lapwing - Vanellus tectus, also known as the Black-headed Plover
  • White-crowned Lapwing - Vanellus albiceps, also known as the White-crowned Plover
  • Crowned Lapwing - Vanellus coronatus, also known as the Crowned Plover
  • Pied Lapwing - Vanellus cayanus, also known as the Pied Plover
  • Southern Lapwing - Vanellus chilensis

Subfamily : Anarhynchinae, with 24 species under 5 genera, including :-
  • Caspian Plover - Eupoda asiatica, formerly Charadrius asiaticus
  • Oriental Plover - Eupoda veredus, formerly Charadrius veredus
  • Greater Sand Plover - Eupoda leschenaultii, formerly Charadrius leschenaultii
  • Lesser Sand Plover - Eupoda mongola, formerly Charadrius mongolus
  • Collared Plover - Ochthodromus collaris, formerly Charadrius collaris
  • Kentish Plover - Ochthodromus alexandrines, formerly Charadrius alexandrines
  • White-fronted Plover - Ochthodromus marginatus, formerly Charadrius marginatus

SUBORDER : Limicoli, consisting 4 families Thinocoridae, Rostratulidae, Jacanidae and Scolopacidae.

South American inland waders that are generally found in the colder climates of the far south of the continent or at higher altitudes.

Family : Thinocoridae, with 4 species under a single genera

Painted -snipes
A species that effectively resembles a snipe, but is more brightly coloured and with a shorter bill.

Family : Rostratulidae, with 3 species under 2 genera
  • Greater Painted-snipe - Rostratula benghalensis

The Jacana, nick-named the ‘Lily-Trotter’, is a small to medium sized tropical wader that has greatly elongated toes and claws, which enable it to walk across floating vegetation.

Family : Jacanidae, with 8 species under 6 genera, including :-
  • Northern Jacana - Jacana spinosa
  • Wattled Jacana - Jacana jacana
  • African Jacana - Actophilornis africanus


Family : Scolopacidae, split down into 5 subfamilies containing 90 species in 15 genera

A group of relatively large birds that are characterised by their long, slender, downcurved bill and mottled brown plumage.

Subfamily : Numeniinae, with 8 species under a single genus, including :-
  • Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
  • Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Comparatively large, long billed, waders that breed in northern climates and then migrate south in winter. They can be distinguished from the Whimbrel and Curlews by their straight or slightly upturned bill, and from the Dowitchers by their longer legs.

Subfamily : Limosinae, with 4 species under a single genus, including :-
  • Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
  • Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica

Turnstones, calidrid Sandpipers and related waders
The Turnstones are a distinct pair of species that both breed in the Arctic and which are often associated with the other species within this subfamily. The calidrid Sandpiers and related species are a group of Arctic breeding migratory wading birds, which often form mixed flocks on coasts and estuaries in winter.

Subfamily : Arenariinae, with 2 species of Turnstone under a single genus and a further 25 mixed species of calidrid Sandpipers and related waders under 2 genera, including :-
  • Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
  • Black Turnstone - Arenaria melanocephala
  • Red Knot - Calidris canutus
  • Ruff - Calidris pugnax, formally Philomachus pugnax
  • Sanderling - Calidris alba
  • Dunlin - Calidris alpina
  • Little Stint - Calidris minuta
  • Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
  • Purple Sandpiper - Calidris maritima
  • Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla

Phalaropes, freshwater Sandpipers, Shanks and Tattlers
Phalaropes are small aquatic waders that spend much time swimming on the open ocean. All the other species contained within this subfamily are small to medium sized waders that nest in temperate or subarctic areas rather than in the high Arctic like the caldrids group.

Subfamily : Tringinae, with 3 species of Phalarope under a single genus and 16 mixed species of freshwater Sandpipers, Shanks and Tattlers under 3 genera, including :-
  • Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus
  • Grey Phalarope - Phalaropus fulicarius, just to confuse matter this species is also known as the Red Phalarope
  • Terek Sandpiper - Xenus cinereus
  • Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
  • Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius
  • Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
  • Wood Sandpiper - Tringa glareola
  • Wandering Tattler - Tringa incana, formery Heteroscelus incanus
  • Spotted Redshank - Tringa erythropus
  • Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
  • Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
  • Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
  • Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
  • Willet - Tringa semipalmata, formerly Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

Dowitchers, Snipe and Woodcock
Dowitchers are medium-sized, long-billed waders that closely resemble Godwits in body and bill shape, but are shorter legged more like Snipe. Snipe are highly camouflaged birds with long straight bills that favour marshes and wetlands, and which have a drumming display flight that is usually seen at dawn or dusk. Woodcocks are largely nocturnal birds of the forest, sometimes regarded as a gamebird.

Subfamily : Scolopacinae, with 3 species of Dowitcher under a single genus, 21 species of extant Snipe under 4 genera and 8 species of Woodcock under a single genus, including :-
  • Jack Snipe - Lymnocryptes minimus
  • Common Snipe - Gallinago galliaago

SUBORDER : Lari, consisting 2 families Dromadidae and Glareolidae

It should be noted, that under the recent reorganisation of the order CHARADRIIFORMES, the suborder Lari also includes Skuas, Auks, Gulls, Terns and Skimmers, but obviously for the purpose of this listing only those species regarded as shorebirds or waders have been shown. There are separate listings for both Gulls and Terns.

Crab Plover
A distinctive species of plover that is only found in the northern and western areas of the Indian Ocean. It has long legs and a large black bill, and is unique amongst waders in that it nests underground in burrows. Its appearance and unusual behaviour separates it from other plovers and gives it its own genus.

Family : Dromadidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera
  • Crab Plover - Dromas ardeola

Pratincoles and Coursers
Whilst classed as ‘waders’ Pratincoles don’t really look or act the part. They have short legs, short bills, long pointed wings and forked tails. They do feed on the ground, but primarily hunt their insect prey on the wing like swallows. Coursers are long-legged, fast-running, cryptically-plumage birds of dry habitats. The family is widespread in warm or hot climates, but does not occur in the Americas.

Family : Glareolidae, with 8 species of Pratincole under a single genus and 9 species of Courser under 2 genera, including :-
  • Collared Pratincole - Glareola pratincola, also known as the Common Pratincole
  • Three-banded Courser - Rhinoptilus cinctus
  • Temminck's Courser - Cursorius temminckii

Related information : 'understanding bird orders and families' and 'understanding taxonomy listings'

Issue : 9 (Feb.18) - (originated Nov.15)