Shallow seas and estuaries are very rich in invertebrate life. Many birds feed on the worms, crabs and shellfish in these habitats; often, they have long bills for probing sand and mud where their prey lives, and long, featherless legs to wade through the water. These are wading birds or waders.
Curlew Sandpiper © Gideon Climo
Crab plover © Jeff Watson
Grey Plover © Gideon Climo
At least 16 species of wader are annual visitors to Seychelles, but none of them breed here; they are all regular migrants.
Most of the waders breed far to the North, in Siberia or the far north of Europe about 10,000km from Seychelles. There, in the short northern summer the sun hardly sets and huge areas of marshy ground and lakeshores are suddenly rich in insects and other invertebrates. The birds nest on the ground and rear their young, exploiting this explosion of food. However, the birds cannot survive the harsh winters when the ground is frozen, and they migrate South to the Seychelles, East African coasts and other places for the winter. Most arrive in October or November and leave around May. Some birds that are not old enough to breed may not make the long and difficult journey North in the following year but stay year-round in the Seychelles, so there are always a few turnstones, whimbrels and grey plovers present on beaches here.
One species that does not breed in Russia is the Crab Plover or Kavalye. This distinctive black and white bird with a heavy black bill for cracking open crabs and shellfish actually breeds in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
The regular migrant waders you are likely to see in the Seychelles are shown in the photographs in this section and described briefly below, roughly in order of size. Notes on these species are not particularly detailed because none of these birds breed here, and all may be seen in similar habitats (beaches, shallow sea, mudflats, mangroves and freshwater wetlands, and grassy open places on land). A few waders can be seen all year round but for all species the peak season is between October and May.
1. Curlew - Gran Korbizo - Numenius arquata
A bird with a very long, downcurved beak. Usually seen by itself.
2. Whimbrel - Korbizo - Numenius phaeopus
Like the curlew, but smaller with a shorter, less strongly curved beak and with two dark brown stripes on the top of the head. Sometimes seen in large groups. Much more common than the curlew in the Seychelles.
3. Crab Plover - Kavalye - Dromas ardeola
An unmistakable black and white bird with a heavy black beak for crushing and eating crabs.
Around the southern coral islands of Seychelles, this bird is seen in huge flocks. Around the granite islands it occurs in smaller numbers.
4. Bar-tailed Godwit - Limoza Lake Are - Limosa lapponica
About the size of a Whimbrel, but with a straight (in fact, slightly upturned) beak. Not very common in Seychelles but usually seen in pairs or small groups.
5. Common Greenshank - Kavalye Lapat Ver - Tringa nebularia
The Greenshank is a tall, slim pale grey bird with greenish legs and a long straight (slightly upturned) beak. Wades in shallow water, dashing to chase small fish.
6. Grey Plover - Plivye Sann - Pluvialis squatarola
A large, heavily-built plover. This species is more common than the Pacific Golden Plover (see below). The Grey Plover always has black ‘armpits’ visible when it flies; the Golden Plover does not.
7. Pacific Golden Plover - Plivye Dore - Pluvialis fulva
A fairly large plover. Usually browner in colour than the Grey Plover.
8. Terek Sandpiper - Kavalye - Trakase Xenus cinereus
A medium-sized bird with bright orange-yellow legs and feet, and yellow upturned beak. Usually seen in flocks of other waders.
9. Greater Sandplover - Gran Pliyve Ordiner - Charadrius leschenaultii
10. Lesser Sandplover - Pti Plivye Ordiner - Charadrius mongolus
Lesser and Greater Sandplover differ in size and in the way they stand; Greater is more horizontal, Lesser is more upright. In breeding plumage, males of both species are brightly coloured with black mask, white chin and orange breast and forehead. The male Greater Sandplover in breeding plumage has a small white patch just above the beak, an area that is all black in the Lesser.
11. Turnstone - Bezroz - Arenaria interpres
The commonest wading bird in Seychelles, often in flocks of 30 or more. Can be seen on rocky shores and remote islands as well as on mudflats. Has bright orange legs and black chest collar.
12. Common Ringed Plover - Pliyve Kolye Nwanr - Charadrius hiaticula
A small wader with a dark ring round its neck, and orange legs. Normally seen singly, with other small waders.
13. Curlew Sandpiper - Bekaso Korbizo - Calidris ferruginea
A small wader, usually in small flocks. Has a downcurved bill like a miniature curlew.
14. Sanderling - Bekaso Blan - Calidris alba
A small, whitish wader normally seen in small numbers on sandy beaches. It runs along the beach feeding on invertebrates in the sand freshly exposed by receding waves, running back up the beach out of the way of incoming waves.
15. Common Sandpiper - Kavalye Bat Lake - Actitis hypoleucas
A small brown wader, usually seen by itself around the margins of water (freshwater and the sea). Can be recognised by its colour and the way it bobs its tail.
16. Little Stint - Pti Pti Bekaso - Calidris minuta
A tiny wader, usually seen by itself in groups of other species.