Wild South Florida — Semipalmated Sandpiper
 
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Semipalmated Sandpiper
semipalmated sandpiper
Semipalmated sandpiper, photographed at Gulfstream County Park, Gulfstream, Palm Beach County, in September 2013.
semipalmated sandpiper

 

If you want to see a semipalmated sandpiper in summer, be prepared to go north. Way north. As in the Arctic Circle north.

The semipalmated sandpiper, Calidris pusillais, is a small shorebird that makes a huge commute. Not only does it spend its summers in the far northern fringe of the continent, it travels as far south as the coastlines of South America to spend its winters. Some so far south that they cross the equator. Now, that's some serious traveling.

Along the way, it passes through Florida as it does most of the eastern and central United States and Canada. Some studies have shown semipalmated sandpipers trekking between 2,000 and 3,000 miles nonstop between southern Canada and New England and the South American coast. Their secret? Fat reserves. They spend summer eating in preparation for the trip.

Some semipalmated sandpipers spend their winters not far from our shores, however, in the Bahamas, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, the semipalmated sandpiper's long-distance commute probably has caused it to end up on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. The list contains 233 birds that are threatened with extinction, and while it doesn't specify reasons for each bird, it does say generally that the sandpipers and similar shorebirds with small global populations tend to concentrate in threatened habitats during their migration. That leaves them potentially vulnerable as their haunts disappear. The International Union for Conservation of Nature rates the semipalmated sandpiper "near threatened."

 
 
semipalmated sandpiper
 

Semipalmated sandpipers go about five or six inches long, with a wingspan of a foot or less. They have a medium bill and medium legs and a black patch on the rump and tail. Semipalmated refers to the slight webbing between the toes.

These birds breed on open tundra near water. Males begin the mating process by winning the heart of a female through song. Males also scrape out a few potential nest sites, with the female selecting the one she wants and lining it with leaves and grass and other soft stuff. Females will lay three or four eggs, with both parents handling incubation duties, which last about three weeks.

The young semipalmateds are ready to leave the nest within hours of hatching. Both parents tend their offspring at first, but soon mom flies the coop, so to speak, leaving the job of rearing the brood to dad. Fortunately for dad, the kids are also able to feed themselves after hatching, so his job basically is to keep them out of trouble. The offspring are able to fly within about two weeks, and fly well within three.

Food for the semipalmated sandpiper includes aquatic bugs and crustaceans. They forage by walking along beaches or mudflats looking for goodies, or by probing with their bill. During migration, their diet widens. Semipalmated sandpipers are members of Scolopacidae, the sandpiper family.

Photographs by David Sedore
 
       
More Links for Semipalmated Sandpiper Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Audubon Society National Geographic
 
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