The LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla) is the smallest shorebird, the definitive “peep”. An adult is only about 6″ long. They are to be found in pairs or groups, busily foraging in the sand and seaweed. Often they will mix in with other shorebirds. These birds nest in scrapes close to the water, with both parents involved in incubating the eggs. The female will usually leave the nest before the young birds fledge - perhaps (bizarrely?) sometimes even before the eggs hatch. Deal with it, male Least Sandpipers. Fortunately the hatchlings can feed themselves very soon, and are able to fly within two weeks of birth.
The “peep” call will no doubt be instantly familiar, although how to differentiate between the various types of sandpiper may be more of a problem… Here’s a short recording via Xeno-Canto (credit: Mike Nelson)
They may burrow deep into the seaweed near the shoreline to reach an especially good feeding patch
SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM
I have recently been looking at hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies. There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller, less exotic wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimableBEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved an outing here. I re-blogged the chart from BCS early last year. In the meantime site followers and site hits have surprisingly increased considerably, but I suspect only the dedicated make time to sift through any blog’s archives… Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS
(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)
1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea. 2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time. 3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading). 4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing. 5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea. 6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water. 7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired. 8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water. 9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts. 10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS
(Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)
1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings. 2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours). 3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food. 4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds. 5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands. 6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes. 7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding. 8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds. 9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel. 10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS
(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)
1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica. 2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters. 3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes). 4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting. 5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged. 6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach. 7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened. 8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together. 9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl. 10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.
Not the feeblest punning title on this blog, but going hard for the avian-related booby prize. As it were. Many months ago I did a short post about these tiny plovers, and had begun to update it. Then I found that both the BNTand theABACO SCIENTIST are onto them too. Thanks to them, I have some excellent added material further down the page… But first, here’s a quick cut out ‘n’ keep summary
SIZECharadrius melodusis a Very Small Shorebird
HABITAT Rocky shores / sandy beaches; nesting in higher, drier areas of the shoreline where there is cover
RANGE From Canada (summer) down to the Gulf of Mexico (winter). They head south in August and return in March
Credit: Xeno-Canto / Google
CALLA thin whistled peep peeping, whether standing or flying, and a two-note alarm call [There are surprisingly few Piping Plover call samples online. Many sites - Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest - all seem to have the same one. So I'll credit them all and the originator Lang Elliot and hope I've covered my back...]
BREEDING The male digs out several scrapes on the high shoreline. The female contemplates these efforts, and (if any meet her ideal domestic criteria) chooses her preferred one, which she then decorates (grass, weed, shells etc). Meanwhile, Mr Peep tries to impress her by chucking pebbles around, dive-bombing her, and strutting around her importantly and “fluffed up” [none of these tactics work in human courtship, in my experience]. If Mrs Peep (a) likes the home she has chosen and furnished and (b) has recovered from her fit of the giggles at all that performance, she permits mating to proceed
NESTING First nests normally have 4 eggs; later ones fewer. Both share incubation and subsequent parental ‘brooding’ duties
DEFENCE Plovers have a defensive “broken wing display” used to distract predators and draw attention away from the nest
THREATS Larger birds, cats, raccoons etc. Human disturbance. Plovers and chicks are vulnerable to storms & abnormal high tides
ZOOM…! Capable of running at astonishing speed over short distances. When they stop, they often snap the head back and forward.
STATUS Depending on area, treated either as Threatened or Endangered; IUCN listing NT
CONSERVATION Historically PP feathers were used as decoration in wealthy women’s hats – no longer a problem. Shoreline development and alterations to natural coastline are now the leading cause of population decline. This has been reversed through field and legislative protection programs, especially at nesting sites; public education; anti-predation measures; and restricting human access in vulnerable areas – including off-roading…
STOP PRESS Nov 18Sean has just posted a professional / scientific article about piping plovers, with some very useful information specific to Abaco and some helpful links, over at theABACO SCIENTIST. Clicking through is highly recommended if you want to know more about these little birds
This is the characteristic ‘pigeon-toed’ stance – they run that way too…
RICARDO JOHNSON’S 6 MINUTE VIDEO ‘PIPING PLOVERS’
Ricky is a well-known, infectiously enthusiastic, and compendiously knowledgeable Abaco nature guide (this guy gets way too much free publicity in this blog…). As I wrote when I originally posted it “In this video he focusses his binoculars on piping plovers, a threatened species of tiny plover which annually makes a long migration to the Bahamas, including Abaco – and then heads all the way north again.”
If this video doesn’t make you smile at some stage, I suspect a SOH bypass and / or your ‘anti-cute’ setting is jammed on. Even so you’ll see the differences between the piping plover and the more familiar Wilson’s plover.
The BNT / ABSCI material originates from the Audubon Society. If you want to know about the annual journeys of these little birds and where they are in each season, it’s all here. The item was made in conjunction with theESRI mapping project. I’ve put a screenshot below to give a general idea of what’s involved [click to enlarge] and you can reach the interactive Audubon page if you CLICKPIPING PLOVER
Credits:Wiki (images), Audubon Soc, Xeno-Canto, Lang Elliot & partners, Ricky Johnson