Birds – Pectoral Sandpiper

(Tringa maculata)


Length—9.00 to 9.50 inches.

Male and Female—The blackish brown feathers of upper parts heavily bordered with buff; the lower back and upper tail coverts black, lightly tipped with buff. Tail pointed; the shorter outer feathers brownish gray, edged with white. Eyebrow white; sides of head, neck, and breast white, streaked with brown or black; rest of under parts white. In winter plumage the feathers of upper parts are edged with chestnut, instead of buff, and the breast is washed with yellow.

Range—The whole of North and the greater part of South America; also the West Indies. Nests in the Arctic regions; winters south of United States.

Season—Migratory visitor, April, May, and from July to November.

To all except inveterate gunners the habits of this little game bird become most interesting after it has gone to the far north, where most people may not observe them, and we must depend upon Mr. Nelson’s ” Report on Natural History Collections made in Alaska” for our information. On reaching the nesting grounds a male becomes intensely excited in its efforts to win the attention of a sweetheart. It may ” frequently be seen running along the ground, close to the female,” he writes, “its enormous sac inflated, and its head drawn back and the bill pointing directly forward; or, filled with springtime vigor, the bird flits, with slow but energetic wing-strokes, close to the ground, its head raised high over the shoulders, and the tail hanging almost directly down. As it thus flies, it utters a succession of hollow, booming notes, which have a strange ventriloquial quality. At times the male rises twenty or thirty yards in the air, and, inflating its throat, glides down to the ground with its sac hanging below. Again he crosses back and forth in front of the female, puffing his breast out, bowing from side to side, running here and there. . . . Whenever he pursues his love making, his rather low but pervading note swells and dies in musical cadences.” These liquid notes may be represented by a repetition of the syllables too-u, too-u, too-u. Like certain members of the grouse family, the skin of the throat and breast of the male becomes very loose and flabby, like a dewlap, during the mating season, and may be inflated at will to a size equalling that of the body. Eggs brought to the Smithsonian Institution from tufts of grass in meadows at the delta of the Yukon are greenish drab, spotted and blotched with umber.

When flocks of these sandpipers come down from Alaska and Greenland in early autumn, we see them less commonly scattered on the beaches, where one naturally looks for sand-pipers, and usually in the salt marshes, or in meadows near water, salt or fresh, running nimbly among the grasses, pattering about in the pools, pecking at insects, snails, and other tiny creatures above ground, or probing the soft mud or sand for such as have buried themselves below. Silent, gentle, almost tame, friendly with their allies and unsuspicious of foes, they lie well to a dog, squat when danger comes near, and only when it positively threatens fly off with a “squeaky, grating whistle.” Because they fly in a zig-zag, erratic course, they are frequently called snipe, but they are true sandpipers, nevertheless. Decoys rarely lure them, though an imitation of their whistle may. In autumn we can see no indication of the extraordinary pectoral sac that becomes so prominent in the bird’s figure in June, and that is responsible for the most characteristic of its many popular names.

The White-rumped, Schinz’s, or Bonaparte’s Sandpiper (Tringa fuscicollis), scarcely over seven inches long, looks like a smaller copy of the preceding species, although on close scrutiny we note that its central tail feathers are not long and sharply pointed, and that its longer upper tail coverts are white instead of blackish. These white tail coverts, so conspicuous in flight, help to define the bird from Baird’s Sandpiper, that has dingy olive brown coverts; but we must depend upon the whiterumped bird’s larger size, chiefly, to tell it from the semipalmated sandpiper. This is a sociable little wader, often flocking with its cousins, and so offering frequent opportunities for comparison of these often confused species. In winter the upper parts are plain brownish gray, and the streaks on neck, breast, and sides are less distinctly streaked. No striking peculiarities of habit distinguish it: it is a peaceful, gentle, friendly, active, little sprite, like the majority of its kin; too confiding, often, to save its body from the ultimate fate of the gridiron and the skewer. Its note is a piped weet, weet.

Baird’s Sandpiper (Tringa bairdii), far more common in the interior than on the Atlantic coast, closely resembles the whiterumped species in size and plumage, and may be distinguished from it ” by the fuscous instead of white middle upper tail-coverts,” says Mr. Frank Chapman. ” In summer it differs also in the absence of rufous above, the less heavily spotted throat, and the white instead of spotted sides. In winter the chief distinguishing marks of the two species, aside from the differently colored upper tail-coverts, are the bully breast and generally paler upper parts of bairdii. ” Colonel Goss says these sand-pipers are more inclined to wander from the water’s edge than the white-rumped species, whose habits they otherwise closely resemble, and that he has flushed them on high prairie lands at least a mile from the water.