Monday, May 27, 2013

Stilt Sandpiper and Hudsonian Godwit

On our recent jaunt, John Holden and I found ourselves surrounded by shorebirds north of Aberdeen, South Dakota (see last post). West of Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, we found Hudsonian Godwits and smaller Stilt Sandpipers. The sandpipers are easily identified by their barred breasts and chestnut cheeks. Stilt Sandpipers can also be told by their habit of standing in deep water, sometimes up to their bellies.

The godwit is known by its dark chestnut belly and, in flight (see lower photo), by its white rump. The lower photo also shows a Stilt Sandpiper in flight and, behind (and actually in focus), a Pectoral Sandpiper. The Pectoral is known by its size, relatively short bill, dark bib, and the dark-brown upperparts, a color that contiues through the center of the tail. Curiously, when I took this photo, I did not even see the Pectoral Sandpiper fly by me.
As I have written previously about Hudsonian Godwits, this species was considered to be on the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. Only in the 1940s were staging areas of migrating godwits discovered—perhaps these godwits were not as rare as previously believed. Nevertheless, hunting in South America, the effects of huge geese populations degrading arctic breeding grounds, and habitat destruction for oil extraction all threaten this species today (Walker et al. 2011).

Stilt Sandpipers are usually thought to be relatively rare shorebirds. They also winter in South America, and breed in the high arctic. Like the godwit, habitat degradation by over-abundant geese interfere with their nesting. Habitat fragmentation, both in South America and in the Arctic, does not help. Nevertheless, according to Klima and Jehl (2012), overall numbers of Stilt Sandpipers may be underestimated by ornithologists.

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