Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Pre-dated post.

Sanderlings are one of my favorite little birds. I have noticed them every time we have gone to Virginia Beach when walking along the edge of the surf. You can see them in flocks running at full tilt, chasing the receding waves and scurrying away from them as they return. It is a glorious synchronization of movement and is always a comical sight as you see their little legs scurrying along in a blur of motion. In fact, it seemed to me that they had the speed of Olympic sprinters and then some.

Before the waves return, their little beaks continuously disappear into the sand. They always seem to be in a feeding frenzy, eager for a tasty morsel before the water once again overtakes them. Sanderlings feed on mollusks and crustaceans, like the mole crab (Emerita analoga). I remember my Mother-in-law showing me a mole crab on one of my first visits down to the beach. They burrow deep into the sand and their tiny legs tickled the palm of my hand. In one way I was revolted because back then I was a bit wary of such things, okay a little scaredy-cat, but in another way those little creatures helped to started my fascination with his kind. Years later I was able to dig them up myself and introduce young visitors to them and watch their delight, and yes sometimes their revulsion if it was a little girl while hopefully still planting a seed. My Dad would have said I had come a long way since the days I would scream blue-bloody-murder if I ever saw a big old garden spider on the wall. My Dad did not believe in killing spiders by the way, always saying they were more scared of me than I was of them. Out came the spider box and the seagull's feather, which he would use to gently brush the spider into the box, and whereupon said Mr. Spider would be set free in the garden. But I digress, if you want to see what a Mole Crab looks like you can click here.

Sanderlings breed in the high Arctic and winters along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Canada to Argentina. They are described as a starling-sized shorebird - 8" (20 cm) - with a conspicuous white wing stripe. Some adults have a rufous head and breast with a white belly. In winter the rufous areas are replaced by pale gray and the birds look almost white. Their bill and legs are black.
Nesting: 4 olive eggs, spotted with brown, placed in a hollow on the ground lined with grasses and lichens. Some female Sanderlings will lay a clutch of eggs but instead of sitting on them, she will give this job to her mate. She will then go off and lay a second batch of eggs that she incubates herself. And if nesting conditions are just right, she may even hook up with another neighboring male and lay a third clutch of eggs, which the new male will take care of.

Their voice sounds like a sharp kip and they have a conversational chatter while feeding. If you would like to hear what one sounds like, you can visit this page here and scroll down to below the black outline of the bird on the left.

One of the most widespread of all shorebirds, the Sanderling turns up on almost every beach in the world. As a wave comes roaring in, the birds run up on the beach just ahead of the breaker, then spring after retreating water to feed on the tiny crustaceans and mollusks left exposed.

The babies can feed themselves from the first day, but the parents - or parent - still needs to remain with them to keep them warm. During the day the young ones feed on the north country's abundant supply of insects, while at night they snuggle up to the adult.

Around three weeks of nonstop baby-sitting, the adult birds leave. The young ones are now on their own. After several days of milling around with the other juveniles, their instinct to migrate takes over. They leave their nesting grounds and head off to a place they have never been before, which in many cases is Cape Cod.

Out of the breeding season Sanderlings are gregarious birds. They feed together in small flocks and roost together in larger ones. Most Sanderlings get along quite well but there are a few birds that can become quite testy with each other. Both males and females will defend their food and are constantly chasing others away from their feeding areas, even when the food supply is enough for everyone.

I have read that the Sanderling population is in trouble and as our beaches become more and more popular with people, off-road-vehicles, dogs and birders, the birds are finding fewer places where they can eat and rest.

I hope these little birds are with us for a very long time and I might add that I was very respectful in the distance I kept and all these photos were taken with a zoom lens. I'll also add that often they came towards me and didn't seem to mind the other humans around either. At this time of the year there aren't that many of us at the beach anyhow.

I wish I had gotten this little one entirely in frame but as we all know when taking photographs, you take what you can get.


  1. Nice job!

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >

  2. Thanks for this very informative post. Three broods in one season would make the mama Sanderling very busy indeed.

  3. what super close up shots you got of them. A very informative post,


  4. Mine too somewhere I have a poem

  5. Very nice, I learned a lot about these dainty birds

  6. Grand post my friend, with these hungry birds.

  7. Beautiful little birds to see... your images are fantastic.

  8. Lovely nature pictures, nice close-ups.