Opinion Column

BIRDWATCH: On the prowl for sandpipers

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

One of the more common migrant shorebirds that pass through our area, both in the spring and the fall, is the Least Sandpiper. It is one of many peeps seen on our beaches and mudflats during migration.


The Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is the smallest of our North American sandpipers. In fact, it is one of the smallest waders in the world.

This little sandpiper is usually found in wet habitats where it forages for food by picking small animals from the surface of mud, and by probing mud for insects, insect larvae and small crustaceans.

It is quite a tame bird and is often seen walking along the shoreline near humans. It is also quite gregarious in that it is primarily found in both small and large flocks, often with other species of shorebirds.

This bird is easily identified by its small size and the buff-brown wash on its streaked breast. It is one of the brownish and darkest of the peeps. It has dull yellow legs and feet, unlike most of the other North American sandpipers that have black legs and feet.

The Least Sandpiper breeds in colonies. Once on the breeding grounds, this bird begins to sing for long periods, and attracts a female by its song and display pattern. The nest of this bird is started by the male but finished by the female. The nest consists of a small pile of grass on the ground with a fine, grass lining, and is usually located near water.

The Least Sandpiper is monogamous and has one brood per year. The eggs of this sandpiper are incubated for 19 to 23 days by both sexes. The female takes the night shift and the male takes the day shift. Once the young hatch, the young birds immediately leave the nest and feed and tend to themselves.

The Least Sandpiper is very common. In the summer it is located in the northern tundra from Alaska to Newfoundland. In the winter, it migrates south at night and is located in the southern United States and Mexico. Some of these birds may still be around and migrating through. Look for them on the beach at Riverside Park and at the marina.

Elsewhere on the local scene, the fall migration continues. You may have noticed that over the past two weeks, thousands of Canada Geese have been passing through our area. Many more of these geese are still around on our lakes, rivers and in our fields. If you look carefully, you might spot the odd Cackling, White-fronted, or Snow Goose among them. Also, on our lakes several of our northern ducks, Scoters, and Grebes should be arriving soon.

In terms of winter migrants, we are presently being inundated with large flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos, a few Horned Larks, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and possibly American Pipits. Watch for Bohemian Waxwings at your fruit trees, the arrival of White-crowned Sparrows, early Snow Buntings and Pine Siskin. It still may be a bit early for Evening Grosbeaks, Northern Shrike, and Common Redpolls. This year, I hope that we finally get some Pine Grosbeaks. These birds have been absent for a few years now.

On Oct. 8, Wendall McLaughlin of Beachburg Road informed me that he had several flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and several White-throated Sparrows in his yard.

The next day, Lee Torvi of Meath Hill also had a few dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows among many of her regular winter birds.

Finally, around this same period, John Meadows of Westmeath observed a Golden Eagle on Marcotte Island in the Ottawa River. This is probably the same bird that has been observed by many in the Pembroke area.

Please call me with your bird sightings at 613-735-4430, or email me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on nature or upcoming nature events, just Google the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists’ website or ‘like’ us on Facebook. 

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