Members of this order frequent the vicinity of water and are referred to as waders or shorebirds. They live primarily on animal food. They feed by foraging, picking objects off the surface of the water or land, or by shallow probing in sandy or muddy habitats. Their sizes range from 5 to 32 inches in length. The toes are usually webbed. The plumage is ususally dense and waterproof. Bright coloring is rare, with most being black, brown or gray with white markings.

These birds often live in large colonies. They are strong and are found world-wide. Sexual dimorphism is absent. The young are precocial in most species, and are born with down feathers. Despite the outward diversity between members, close relationship has been established based on comparisons or internal details.