Shorebirds & Waterfowl


  1. Shorebirds are classified under the Charadriiformes Order. Some of the shorebirds found in Illinois are gulls and terns.
  2. Gulls are often referred to as seagulls, but this terminology fails to differentiate between the 20 or more species of gulls found in the United States alone. The Herring Gull and the Ring-billed Gull are the most prominent species in Illinois. The difference between the two is the black ring encircling the bill of the Ring-billed. The Herring Gull lacks this black ring.
  3. Terns are not specifically a part of Illinois wildlife, but can sometimes be seen as they migrate south.
  4. Shorebirds lay 2 to 4 eggs in a clutch in a nest that is located on the ground. The young are precocial, meaning that they stay on the ground. The eggs aer incubated for 18 to 38 days, depending on species. Both parents contribute to the raising of the young.


  1. Waterfowl are classified under the Anseriformes Order. This order includes ducks, geese, and swans.
  2. The most common duck species in Illinois include Mallards, Wood Ducks, and Teals. Ducks lay 8 to 12 eggs per clutch. The eggs are incubated for 23 to 29 days. It takes 40 days for the ducklings to become fledgings. Only the hen is responsible for the rearing of the young.
  3. The most familiar goose in Illinois is the Canada Goose. They are often seen flying in the characteristic “V” formation. Geese lay 4 to 7 eggs in a clutch. The eggs are incubated for 24 to 30 days and hatch in May. It takes 2 to 3 months for the goslings to become fledgings. The goslings are able to fly 70 days after hatching. Both parents participate in raising the young.
  4. The most prevalent swan in Illinois is the Mute Swan. Swans lay 4 to 7 eggs per clutch. The eggs are incubated 35 to 40 days. It takes 2 to 3 months for the young to become fledgings. Both parents raise the youngs.
  5. Waterfowl make their nest on the ground near water and the young, like shorebirds, are precocial.

More About Canadian Geese

  1. What to do if you find a gosling – Geese are very social creatures and do best when placed back with their own kind. If you find a gosling and it appears to be healthy, try to find a pond that has goslings of the similar size. Distract the parents long enough to place the new gosling with the others and observe from a far off distance. The new “foster” parents should accept the new one as one of their own. Just remember that these efforts need to be done within 24 hours after finding the gosling or else the gosling will start to imprint on humans, which could have potentially serious side effects later on in life.
  2. Flocks of geese can be composed of a family group or even groups of family.
  3. Geese will mate for life.
  4. Their favorite food are new shoots of grass often found along side of ponds and resevoirs.
  5. Geese will lose all of their flight feathers in late June and do not regrow the flight feathers until late July. This means that during this time, the geese are flightless. This is usually when the become the most annoying as they “camp out” on golf courses, in parks, and even in residential yards. During this time, they are also more aggressive, not because they are flightless but rather because they are trying to protect their young.

Other Common Waterbirds

Wading birds can also be found with waterfowl and shorebirds. Wading birds are classified in the Ciconifformes Order and include egrets, bitterns, and herons. Egrets are not typically found in Illinois. The Least Bittern in the only bittern found in Illinois. Some of the more common herons residing in Illinois are the Great Blue Heron, the Green Heron, and the Night Heron.

Things to Know About Shorebirds & Waterfowl

  1. Should we be feeding the ducks/geese – There are many advantages and disadvantages to feeding ducks and geese. The advantages of feeding include feeling like you have helped the wildlife and getting to entice the birds closer for better viewing. There are three main disadvantages to feeding the birds. One is that the birds become dependent on the food and will sometimes delay their migration. The birds also become more habituated to cars and people, meaning that they lose their natural fear. This often leads to birds taking up residence in yards, golf courses, and other places where they are not wanted. Losing fear of cars results in being hit by the cars while crossing roads. Last, but not least, the birds become concentrated in the small areas where the food is provided. This increases the risk of spreading disease among the birds and also increases the amount of droopings being deposited in the water. These droopings lead to algal blooms, which decrease the amount of oxygen in the water and killing the fish. So while it might seem like a good idea to feed the geese and ducks, it can be more harmful than good.
  2. 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act – This Act makes it illegal to posses birds, nesting material, eggs, feather, or bones of any migratory bird, including those mentioned on this page, without the proper permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the State of Illinois. It is also illegal to harm or kill any species protected under this Act.
  3. Precautions – When dealing with any of the shorebirds or wading birds, their favorite mechanism of defense is to poke out the eyes of their attacker, including humans, with their bill. ALWAYS WEAR GOOGLES when dealing with any of these species. A good rule of thumb is if it has a long, pointy bill, better to be on the safe side and wear goggles.

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