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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®: Rock Sandpipers Are Tough

Air Date: Week of

A colony of rock sandpipers sit on the shore. (Photo: © Aaron Lang)

Homer Spit on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska is home to a colony of small shorebirds known as rock sandpipers, as well as gulls and waterfowl. One way to keep track of them is the yearly Christmas Bird Count. BirdNote's Mary McCann has more.


CURWOOD: You’ve heard the expression ‘tough old bird’ I imagine. Well, it might just have been inspired by the Rock Sandpiper of Alaska. Here is Mary McCann with BirdNote.

Rock Sandpipers Are Tough - Homer Spit Christmas Bird Count
[Waves crashing on rocky shore, wind howling]
Although the town of Homer is in southern Alaska, no one would ever think of it as southern on this midwinter day. The temperature is well below freezing, and flurries of snow dance in the blustery wind. This is a place for rugged birders and the even tougher birds they seek. [Rock Sandpiper calls]
So let’s put on heavy parkas and head onto Homer Spit, on the longest road into ocean waters anywhere in the world. We’ll watch in particular for Rock Sandpipers feeding along the gravelly shore. These small gray shorebirds run or walk this way and that, probing into the gravel and seaweed. Anything that moves is fair game, especially amphipods, the little crustaceans that hop about when exposed. But the birds also recognize clams, snails, and barnacles as tasty food. [Calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls]

These small shorebirds like to eat small critters on the coast, like clams and crabs. (Photo: M.E. Sanseverino, CC)

Gulls, waterfowl, and many other birds forage along the spit, but Rock Sandpipers are the only shorebirds. [Calls of Rock Sandpipers] Their dense feather coat extends down their legs almost to the ankle, affording some protection from the cold. [Calls of Rock Sandpipers]
How do we know exactly which birds winter on Homer Spit? Well, one way is through the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon. These counts go on all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert to join one – just bring your binoculars and your curiosity. To find one near you, begin at birdnote.org.
Written by Dennis Paulson
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Rock Sandpiper [63777] recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Glaucous-winged Gull [3350] by A.A. Allen.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Waves recorded by Kessler Productions
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org December 2014/2017/2019 Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# ROSA-01-2012-12-17 ROSA-01

CURWOOD: For pictures of these tough birds, go to the Living on Earth website, LOE.org.



Hear this story on the BirdNote website

Learn about rock sandpipers at the Cornell University All About Birds website


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