Birds – Sandpipers

We have now come to the advance line of the second of the three subfamilies into which the Charadriidae are here separated, namely, the Tringince, or Sandpipers, Godwits, etc. It is a large, very widely distributed group containing a large number of genera and species, most of them of small or moderate size, in which the bill is shorter than the tarsus and middle toe, and is straight, or slightly curved upward or downward, while the wings incline to be long and pointed.

In the typical genus (Tringa) the bill is stout and straight, and there is a well-developed hind toe. By some systematists Tringa is divided into several genera, a view not adopted here. As an example we may first select the Knot, Red-breast, or Robin Snipe (T. canutus), as it is variously called. It is about ten and a half inches long, the adult in summer being barred and streaked with black and white and rufous above, the under parts being dull rufous and the abdomen white. The immature plumage is plain brownish gray above, the abdomen white, and the sides and breast more or less barred with black; it requires, it is thought, about four years to acquire the full plumage. The species is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, breeding within the Arctic Circle and migrating in America to Florida and South America; and if the Old World form be the same, wintering in Africa and from the Indian peninsula to Australia and New Zealand. While with us they are found along the coasts, frequenting the seashores, mud flats, and sandy beaches in flocks, often probing in the soft ground for their food, which consists of small crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and aquatic insects. Forty or fifty years ago, according to Mackay, they were often present at many points along the Atlantic coast during the migrations in countless thousands, but at the present time it is rare that more than fifty or a hundred birds are seen by a single person in a year. Although not of a specially fine flavor, they have always been a favorite with gunners, as they responded so readily to calling and to the decoys, approaching in compact bunches which often permitted practically the whole flock to be killed by a single discharge. But principally, however, their destruction was accomplished by approaching them on the beach at night with a bright light. ” The mode of procedure was for two men to start out after dark at half tide, and one of them to carry a lighted lantern, and the other to reach and seize the birds, bite their necks, and put them into a bag slung over the shoulder.” The species is known to breed on the Parry Islands,. Grinnell Land, and the Melville peninsula, but details are mainly lacking. Altogether there are about a dozen other species of Tringa in various portions of North America, but as the habits of all are quite similar to those of the species described, we may only take space to enumerate several of the more important. Thus the Purple Sandpiper (T. maritima) may be known by its brownish gray or ashy breast and fuscous upper tail-coverts; it occurs in northern Europe also; the White-rumped Sandpiper (T. fuscicollis) of eastern North America is only seven and a half inches long and has the upper tail-coverts white; in western North America the last is replaced by the Baird’s Sandpiper (T. bairdii), which it much resembles, but may be separated by the fuscous instead of white upper tail-coverts; closely related to the last two but of larger size (nine inches long) is the Pectoral Sandpiper, Krieker, or Grass-Snipe (T. maculata), which is found more in wet meadows than along the sea-shore; the final American form to be noticed is the Red-backed Sandpiper (T. alpina sakhalina), which has a slightly curved bill. This is the American representative of the well-known Dunlin (T. alpina) of northern Europe and northern Asia, which is exceedingly abundant along the English coasts during the migrations, sometimes coming in such numbers as to resemble ” the smoke from the funnel of a steamer.” Smallest of all is the Least Sandpiper, or Little Stint (T. minuta), which is only six inches in length; it is a native of northern Europe.