May 2012 Bird Photo of the Month

Sandpiper on the Run © Mary Lou Christy
Nikon D700, 300mm lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 @ f/10

Sanderlings, small sandpipers, in groups of 3-4 are commonly seen on sandy beaches rushing after the receding waves probing for mole crabs (aka “sand fleas). The life of the mole crab is spent in that wash zone, bubbles indicate where they are, the whole reason Sanderlings specialize in scuttling back and forth with each wavelet. With their backs toward the ocean, Sanderlings are so busy poking their bills in the sand that they don’t look like they’re watching. Yet amazingly, they run from the incoming wave just in time not to get their feet wet! How do those little legs carry them so fast? They rapidly move as if peddling a bicycle, their body level over churning tiny legs. Have you ever seen them get caught by a wave?

This photo by Mary Lou Christy effectively depicts one Sanderling in action. We see Sanderlings along our Treasure Coast beaches all year long except for June and July. During nonmigratory periods fat comprises 3-5% of their body weight. Two weeks before they migrate, they eat doubly to gain 40% fat tissue of body weight. Designed for minimal fatigue, bulging flight muscles contract aerobically fueling thousands of miles. Sanderlings fly to the high arctic-tundra shores with only a few stopovers to refuel. In their short absence they mate, nest, and raise a brood, then return south to their favorite beach.

Sanderlings are one of the most cosmopolitan, widespread maritime shorebirds. Sanderlings that nest in arctic Spitsbergen, Norway and Siberia winter in Southern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. From the Canadian Arctic archipelago and Greenland, Sanderlings disperse to North America from Pacific to Atlantic Coasts and on tidal sand or mud flats and the shores of lakes and rivers all the way 6,000 miles to southern Chile and Argentina.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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