STINT IDENTIFICATION

As per request, here are some tips that I hope will be helpful in identifying and differentiating Red-necked Stint from Little Stint. I will also do a brief intro on Long-toed and Temminck's Stint... if you build it they will come right?😉

Red-necked and Little Stints look very much alike in worn breeding plumage. The amount of Red on the face, throat and breast in Red-necked Stint is vary variable). They look even more alike in non-breeding plumage, that is why it is essential to learn structural differences to separate the two.

They are similar to Semipalmated Sandpipers as well as Sanderlings. Both species are often confused for Red-necked Stints.

Little Stints rarely get confused with Sanderling because they have a hind toe which helps differentiate it from this species. Sanderlings in breeding or worn breeding are usually confused with Red-necked Stints but they are much larger than Red-necked Stints.

Let's first start with Bills in this complicated ID process:


Little Stints have a thick based bill. It is a longer bill than in Red-necked Stints but just by a little. The main difference is that the bill of Little Stints is more finely tapered with a much more pointy tip.


Semipalmated Sandpipers do not have as tapered a bill as either of these two stint species. Therefore, it helps to eliminate that species quickly when you get good views of the bill.


Red-necked Stints have a square head with a very steep forehead and it has a roundish ball appearance to the body. Red-necked Stints have a very long primary projection that goes past the tip of the tail.

Both Stints have a stout appearance, so it is very hard to differentiate the two in winter plumage.


Both species have black legs but none of them have webbing between the toes as in Western and Semipalmated sandpipers; which helps eliminate these two species. It is rare to see this feature even with a scope. This feature is best left for confirmation through photographs, after the fact.


Since this is a lot of taxing info being thrown your way, I have broken the different species up into more detailed, list specific and concise points. A few facts may get repeated below from above but this is because they are some of the most important features in identification and I am trying to drive the point home.


RED-NECKED STINT


General Overall Appearance

It is a very small sandpiper that has a short, deep-based straight bill, that tapers even more so than a Semipamated Sandpiper. They have a rusty-red coloured face, throat and upper breast. The feather tip fringes on the scapulars are coloured red.
The wing coverts and tertials of Red-necked Stints lack this fringing, which is helpful for distinguishing it from Little Stint. They have a white chin (which helps differentiate it from Little Stint). They have a short black bill and short black legs. Their legs are shorter than those of Little Stints. They haves unwebbed toes just like a Little Stint but unlike Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers. No spots or streaking on the lower throat. No definied split effect on the white supercilium (eyebrow) as in Little Stints.

They have a "blocky head" type look, because they have steep foreheads that angle to a flat crown. 
This steep forehead is unlike the foreheads of Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers that have a more gradually sloping forehead. They have evenly marked ear coverts.
They are about 1/4 inch larger than a Little Stint. Therefore, size DOES NOT accurately identify this species.

Primary Projection


They are very long-winged birds. Their wingtips extend just past their tail and they have a long primary projection that projects past the tertials and wing coverts
as long as the lore (especially as they wear in late summer). Together these feathers are responsible for the pale wing panel of a Red-necked Stint in worn breeding plumage.This differs from Semipalmated Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers where it is shorter than the lore.

Breeding Plumage (June to July)

They have a rusty-red coloured face, throat and upper breast.
The feather tip fringes on the scapulars are coloured red (as in breeding Short-billed Dowitchers). They have a white chin (which helps differentiate it from Little Stint). They have a short straight black bill and black legs. They have unwebbed toes just like a Little Stint but unlike Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers. No spots or streaking are present on the lower throat.They have a dark mantle (back) and scapulars (shoulders) with reddish margins. Their tertials are gray with pale edging and they CONTRAST with the upperbody. This differs from Little Stint, where their tertials are dark-centered with reddish edges and there is no contrast, as it blends in with the upperparts.

Adults have a reddish-brown head, neck and upper breast but they have a WHITE CHIN (Be wary as some female Red-necked Stints have white throats and white upper breasts).

Little Stints, in contrast to most breeding adults have a white throat and white breast.

Red-necked Stints also have very dark streaking on the breast which forms a necklace-like appearance, underneath the reddish-brown area.

Little Stints have spotting on the breast instead of streaks on the breast. This spotting is often suffused within the rufous was rather than the necklace appearance of a Red-necked Stint.


At the end of summer many Red-necked Stints lose the reddish brown appearance on the neck and breast. A light pale wash is usually still visible and there may be a very pale white eyebrow that may be mildly split (not defined and bold as in Little Stints). Also look on the breast for streaking underneath where the red/brown area should have been.

The sides or flanks of Red-necked Stints should be plain or occasionally have a few streaks.

Many people easily confuse breeding and worn breeding Sanderlings for this bird but they are much smaller than Sanderlings.

View a close up photo of a Red-necked Stint in breeding HERE


Red-necked Stint in worn breeding plumage - Photo: Brian Stech


Winter Plumage (Adult)

They have a distinct grayish wash that can reach across the breast. They have a gray upper body and their feathers have dark shafts to their feathers.  Little Stints differ, as they have feathers with dark centers. There is again no streaking on the sides (if present, it is very minimal streaking). Non-breeding/winter Little Stints look almost identical to Red-necked Stints.

Adult Red-necked Stint in Winter Plumage - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev

Juvenile Plumage (Jul- Oct)

They have a buffy-gray appearance to the head and breast. Their scapular feathers have dark centres.
Their upper scapulars have feather tip fringes that are reddish-brown that contrast with the dull lower scapulars.
Their wing coverts and tertials are fringed with a pale gray colour as well. The primary projections are long past the tertials.

You can view a photo of a Juvenile Red-necked Stint HERE.

In Flight

They have a weak wing-stripe and their rump and tail are dark right in the center. They have gray outer tail feathers.

You can view a photo of a Red-necked Stint in flight HERE.
 
Call
 
Sounds very similar to Western Sandpiper, except it is more high pitched and more of a scratchy "Jeet". Unless you are adept as hearing their calls to differentiate them, I wouldn't rely on this feature alone unless it is used as a supportive feature.

You can listen to the call HERE.

Feeding Pattern

They have a rapid stabbing action as they probe for food, while walking on shore. They like to feed in large flocks as well.

You can view a video of a Red-necked Stint foraging HERE.


LITTLE STINT

General Overall Appearance


They are a small stocky shorebird (but slightly thinner than a Semipalmated Sandpiper). This sandpiper has a very short deep-based bill. The bill tapers to a very fine point but can also appear slightly drooping at the tip. The bill is much longer and more pointed than a Red-necked Stint. They have a less steep forehead than Red-necked Stints and their foreheads are more sloping. They have a Split White Supercilium (split-eyebrow that starts in front of the eye and continues beyond). The Split Supercilium is most visible in winter and juvenile plumage and is a Key ID Feature. They have a white "V" on the mantle (back) feathers, that is evident in breeding and juvenile plumages.
Primary Projection (very similar to Red-necked Stints)

Their wingtips project past the tail tip and their primary projection past the tertials, is as long as the lore. Their tail is shorter than their wings.

Legs
 
Their black legs are longer than in Red-necked Stints. They have no webbing between their toes, as in Red-necked Stints but unlike Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers that do.

Breeding Plumage


They have upperbody feathers (including the wing coverts and tertials) that are edged with orange-brown fringes. In Red-necked Stints the tertials are dull-centred and pale but edged in red.
They have varying amounts of orange-brown on the head and sides of the breast. Their throat and upper breast is mostly white with a rust-coloured face. They have a dark spotting (obvious) pattern on the orange-brown sides of the breast but there are none on the flanks. They have a peach-coloured wash to the breast sides. The white "V" shaped mantle is present.

You can view a photo of a Little Stint in breeding HERE.

Winter Plumage

They have a white Split Supercilium (or forked line) over their eyes in winter plumage as well. Tthis is a key ID feature for Little Stint. Their upperparts are gray brown, which is almost identical to Red-necked Stints. However, Little Stints show broad dark central feathers on their body. In Red-necked Stints they have thin dark feather shafts, not centers.

Little stints can retain some rufous coloration in non-breeding plumage, which red-necked stints do not.

You can view a photo of a Little Stint in winter plumage HERE.

Juvenile

Their wing coverts, tertials and scapulars have black centres that are bordered with reddish-brown and white. This gives the feathers a scaled appearance. This effect creates a NON-CONTRASTING effect, which is opposite to Red-necked Stints. Red-necked Stints have coverts that are gray and the black colour is only on the feather shaft streak that looks (and is shaped) like an arrow.

Their tertials have reddish-brown edges and this is unlike Red-necked Stints who have no reddish-brown colour on their tertials.

The split supercilium is very evident in this plumage, as is the
white "V" shaped mantle.
 
Juvenile Little Stint - Photo: Michael Ashbee


Call

Extremely high pitched and short "Peet" call.

You can listen to the call HERE

Flight

Weak wing stripe with a dark centered rump and tail with gray outer tail feathers. It can take off in flight vertically.

You can view a photo of a Little Stint in flight HERE.

Feeding Pattern

Erratic fast and frantic pecking and probing as they forage in large mixed species flocks.

You can view a video of a Little Stint foraging HERE.

All Stints are rare in British Columbia but Temminck's and Long-toed are even rarer than Little or Red-necked. Therefore, I will only do a short brief overview on these two.


TEMMINCK'S STINT

General Overall Appearance

This is the most distinctive/easy species of stint to identify. They are a small, short-legged sandpiper with a thin finely pointed bill that droops a bit at the tip. They prefer freshwater over open salt water mudflats. Their wing tips extend to the tail tip. There is no primary projection past the tertials. They have long tails with white outer tail feathers, which I will discuss later.

Breeding Plumage

Greenish-yellow legs, brown upperparts and reddish brown marks on the scapulars and coverts. They have a grayish-brown head and brown streaking on the throat and the breast, which makes it appear to have a bib. They have a distinct white eyering. Their underbelly and flanks are completely white and have no streaking. 

They can be differentiated from Least Sandpipers, as Least Sandpipers lack the bold white eyering.

You can view a photo of a Temminck's Stint in Breeding HERE.

Winter Plumage 

Extremely plain grayish-brown back, head and upper breast with no markings. They have a plain throat and chin and a white belly that is separated from the breastband. It is the Plainest of all the Stints.

You can view a photo of a Temminck's Stint in Winter Plumage HERE

Juvenile (July -Sep)

Just like Adults in winter plumage except they have a minimal (non distinct) scaled look to the feathers on the back.

Figure (d) is a Juvenile Temminck's Stint. Fig. (a, b) are adults in breeding. Fig (c) adult in winter plumage - Photo: Terje Lislevand 


Call 

They sound a bit like crickets with a very fast series of short, high pitched "tirrr"  and "peet" calls.

You can listen to the call HERE

In Flight

Bright white outer tail feathers (all other stints have gray ones). 

You can see a photo of the Temminck's Stint's distinctive white outer tail feathers to the right in this photo HERE. (A Long-toed Stint is used as a comparison shot to the left of the bird. You can see the Long-toed's grayish-brown outer tail feathers).

They have dark central tail feathers and a medium white wing stripe. The underwing is white with some gray colour across the primary coverts. Before flight they do a "towering up" behavior.

You can see a photo of the underwings HERE.

Feeding Pattern

It feeds along the water's edge (prefers fresh water) and pecks slowly for prey from the surface. It does not probe for food.


A video of a Temminck's Stint feeding with its mouse-like style is HERE


LONG-TOED STINT

General Overall Appearance

Long-toed Stints are a small sandpiper with long greenish yellow legs (longer than other peeps) and a long neck. Their middle toe is actually longer than their bill. They look like a miniature Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with their rufous caps (crowns). They have a small head and a thin finely pointed bill that droops at the tip. They also have a white throat.

The bird that can be easily confused with Long-toed Stints are Least Sandpipers. However, in breeding plumage, Leasts lack the cinnamon colour and are browner in colour with less streaked crowns and backs and a dark forehead. Long-toed Stints usually have the lower half of their bills (lower mandible) coloured yellow. Leasts in contrast have a fully black bill. In Non-breeding and Juvenile plumages Least Sandpipers are very difficult to tell apart from Long-toed Stints. 

Adults in Breeding

They have reddish-brown crowns, back, wing coverts and tertials. They have faces and a breast band that are a pale cinnamon colour. Their breast and head is streaked with brown. Their belly and flanks are unmarked and white. They have thick reddish-brown margins on their scapulars and tertials with with white edges on their wing coverts. Therefore, their mantle appears striped (having dark central stripes and parallel rufous edges). The mantle of Least Sandpipers appear scalloped. 

They have no primary projection past the tertials and the wing tips project to the tail tip.

You can view a photo of a Long-toed Stint in breeding HERE. 
*note the middle toe in the above photo*

 Adults in Winter plumage 

They have a very scaled appearance, due to the dark centers with pale margins on the scapulars and wing coverts.

You can view a photo of a Long-toed Stint in winter plumage HERE

Juveniles (July-Sep)

They have a bright white eyebrow that doesn't meet over the bill. They have reddish scapulars and tertials that contrast with the grayish wing coverts.

Call

Low pitched "Churp" (unlike Red-necked and Little)

You can listen to the call HERE.


In Flight

Their toes project far past the tail in flight. Also, the tail is pale with dark centres and gray outer tail feathers (visible in flight). They have a dark leading edge to the underside of the wing, much more so thank in other stint species.

You can see a photo of the underwings in flight HERE.

Feeding Pattern

They feed in small groups or alone and peck in a hunched position as they forage for food in shallow (usually fresh or brackish) water. They will forage in salt water as well. Only Temminck's Stints truly prefer the fresh water.

You can watch a video of a Long-toed Stint foraging HERE.

I hope you found this info helpful. Feel free to respond below with any questions or comments.

Comments

  1. I don't know how you find the time to help us all but we greatly appreciate it. I had zero and i mean zero clue on how to identify a stint of any kind. When one was found at Boundary Bay the last few years I knew generally to look for a western sandpiper size bird with a bright red breast but after that I was on my own and virtually clueless. Mel I appreciate all your hard work here and I've printed this off and bookmarked it. Hopefully it does make me actually find one now since i know now what to look for!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mel, you did a lot of awesome work here and i am just one of the many that benefitted from your work! Thanks. A small suggestion to make your work more assessible is to use the category feature, for example, identification or trips for some of your latest articles. :) just a suggestion to help make your work even more assessible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mario thanks it is actually an index for all posts on the left hand menu where you can access all posts but I will see if I can make that blog archive menu on the main menu as perhaps people cant see it easily on the left hand menu

      Delete
    2. mario i just added a menu tab for id tutorials on the main top of the page. hope that is easier for you i also have tagged the id posts. thanks for bringing this to my attention! all the best,

      Delete
    3. Perfect!! Thanks!!

      Delete
  3. This is a fantastic post on identification with so much detail! I still will probably have problems though!

    ReplyDelete
  4. mel good work here if i ever find a stint i'll pull this out!.... if i ever find a stint hahah right...

    ReplyDelete

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