Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Barry Knott

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the solitary sandpiper.

Between late July through the middle of September, the solitary sandpiper occasionally stops here on its long migratory journey from breeding grounds in the boreal forests of northern Canada and the Arctic. It winters in a broad area from the extreme southern United States to points south as far as South America.

Unlike other sandpipers which migrate in small to large flocks, as the name suggests, this bird makes its long journey alone. An unusual shorebird, in migration and in winter, it is an inland bird, often found at high-elevation forested ponds and lakes.

Unique among North American shorebirds, the solitary sandpiper commonly nests in trees, using last year’s nests of those songbird species which make sturdy nests that survive the winter. It nests by freshwater lakes, ponds and creeks in muskeg bogs of spruce forests. Because its nesting habitat is remote and inaccessible, it is one of the least understood shorebird species.

A prominent white eye ring, small white spots on the olive-brown back, and white underside are identifying traits of this medium-sized sandpiper in breeding plumage. Its long legs are olive colored.

This bird is primarily an insectivore, but also opportunistic, eating crustaceans, mollusks and whatever else it stirs up by shaking a foot in muddy shores or shallow water. Hunting by sight, it snatches prey from the surface and rarely probes in the substrate. Navigating thousands of miles on its own makes this a truly remarkable bird.

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