Spotted Sandpipers Returning To Breeding Grounds
Northern New England is starting to see the return of Spotted Sandpipers, small shorebirds easily identifiable during the breeding season by their spotted chest and belly, teetering movement and stiff wingbeats while flying low over the water.
Spotted Sandpipers distinguish themselves in a number of ways, most notably when it comes to their reversed sex roles. Females arrive first on breeding grounds, stake out territories and attempt to attract males (this is the opposite of the standard avian breeding procedure). Females are more aggressive and active in courtship than males, and males are the primary parent. While some pairs are monogamous, females may mate with up to 4 males, each of which cares for a clutch and a brood.
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Shorebird Migration Well Underway
Contrary to what it’s called, the “fall” migration of shorebirds has been underway since early July, and is in full swing, peaking in August. Vermont is home to only a few breeding shorebirds (Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock). Most of the shorebirds we see this time of year are those migrating south after nesting in the Arctic.
Shorebirds move south relatively early compared to many migratory birds, in part, because the breeding season in the Arctic is quite short. In addition, those birds whose first nesting attempt failed tend to migrate soon afterwards rather than attempt a second nesting, due, once again, to the brief Arctic summer. Also, in several species one member of a pair often leaves before the young are full grown, sometimes even before the eggs hatch, leaving the remaining adult to raise the young.
The young of most shorebirds migrate later than the adults. There can be as much as a month between the peak passage of adults and that of juvenile birds. (Photo: Greater Yellowlegs)
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