Thursday, 4 July 2013

Broad-billed Sandpiper

A Broad-billed Sandpiper in breeding plumage
I have recently returned from a trip to Norway where I have been helping my brother Rab on a long-term study of the birds in the norther marshes, including the breeding biology of Broad-billed Sandpipers Limicola falcinellus. Typically of Arctic-breeding waders, these birds fly north to nest as soon as the snow melts and their breeding grounds are clear enough for them to feed and build a simple nest on the floating mires. The main function of their journey is to find a nursery area for rearing their chicks, and the whole breeding period from egg-laying to fledging is over in a matter of weeks, Then the birds fly south to their wintering grounds, which to date are unknown for the Norwegian population. To help answer this question we began tagging birds with geo-locators, and plan to re-catch the birds next year to download data which should indicate where the birds have spent the non-breeding period, the longest part of their lives.

The broad bill
One of the individual characteristics of wader species is the specific bill shape, and the broad bill of these sandpipers is not usually appreciated when seen in the field in profile. However, when the bird is in the hand, it is obvious. As these birds spend most of their time in their winter quarters, it is likely that their bill is adapted for catching certain prey there, giving them advantage over other species for a specific food source. The bill is not only broad, but has delicate flutings along its length, which suggest that the bill is a very tactile and maneuverable organ, not just a simple horny probe.

The not-so-simple bill of a Broad-billed Sandpiper

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