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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the "Least Sandpiper"

Jun 09, 2016 02:40PM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach “Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the "Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)"

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Bryan Brillhart Photography

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), the smallest shorebird. This species has greenish legs and a short, thin, dark bill. Breeding adults are brown with dark brown streaks on top and white underneath. They have a light line above the eye and a dark crown. In winter, Least sandpipers are grey above. The juveniles are brightly patterned above with rufous colouration and white mantle stripes.

This bird can be difficult to distinguish from other similar tiny shorebirds; these are known collectively 

 as "peeps" or “stints”. In particular, the least sandpiper is very similar to its Asian counterpart, the  long-toed stint. It differs from that species in its more compact, shorter-necked appearance, shorter toes, somewhat duller colours, and a stronger wingbar.

Least sandpipers are widespread and common, and their numbers are probably stable. They are less dependent than some other shorebirds on key stopover points in migration, so perhaps they are less vulnerable.

Habitat is on mudflats, grassy marshes, rainpools, and shores. In migration, they are often more common inland than on the coast, favoring muddy edges of marshes, ponds, rivers; and sometimes 

 In flooded fields or damp meadows. On the coast, they usually avoid sandy beaches and wide-open tidal flats, being found instead on narrow tidal creeks and the edge of salt marshes. They breed on tundra, sedge meadows, and northern bogs. The smallest member of the sandpiper family, they are no bigger than a sparrow. This is the sandpiper most likely to be seen on small bodies of water inland. On sandy riverbanks, lake shores, and edges of sewage treatment ponds, little flocks of Least Sandpipers fly up to circle the area and then settle again, giving thin, reedy cries as they go. On the outer coast, outnumbered by bigger shorebirds, they seek out sheltered places on the muddy edges of the marsh.

They forage mostly by walking slowly and picking up tiny items from the surface of the ground, sometimes probing in mud for food. Diet is tiny crustaceans, insects, and snails. Diet varies with the season and place. On breeding grounds, they may feed mostly on larvae of various flies. During migration on the coast, they may feed mostly on small crustaceans called amphipods and isopods; in inland areas, they may eat mostly insects. Diet also includes small snails, marine worms, and seeds. In spring on Atlantic Coast, they may join other shorebirds in feeding on eggs of horseshoe crabs.

Courtship behavior includes display flights over the breeding territory, males circling with alternating 

 flutters and glides, while singing. During courtship on the ground, males approach females, leaning forward with tails lifted, sometimes raising one or both wings over their backs.

Nest sites are on the ground near water, usually in a clump of grass or on a hummock of moss. Nests, begun by males and completed by females, are a shallow depression lined with bits of grass, leaves, moss.

After mating, females lay 4, rarely 3 pale buff, blotched with shades of brown eggs. Incubation is by both sexes, with females incubating at night and early morning, and males during most of the day at first. In later stages, males may do most or all of the incubating. Downy young leave their nest soon after hatching. Young are usually tended by both parents at first, but females usually desert them before the male does, sometimes departing even before eggs hatch. Males typically stay with the young at least until they can fly. Young feed themselves, and can fly about 14-16 days after hatching.

These little birds are often visitors in our own Tijuana Estuary. Bring your binoculars to get a good view of them there. Until next week, happy birding!


Bryan Brillhart


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