The Mating Dance of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper

"All About Birds" describes the Buff-breasted Sandpiper as a "delicate dove-headed shorebird" that "is unique among North American shorebirds in having a lek mating system". "Delicate" and "dove-headed" are appropriate adjectives:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

They spend our winters in southern South America, and breed in the Arctic. If we're lucky, we can catch them as they migrate through Alberta:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Tofield, Alberta

But if you're really lucky, you get to go to northern Alaska and find them on their breeding grounds. On a trip there in June, 2018, I was fortunate to see a few engaging in their fascinating mating process. Once a male has established a territory (a "lek"), he waves a wing to attract attention.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

The grass he is standing in is high enough to hide him completely, and his buffy colour matches perfectly with the buffy-coloured grass; waving a wing so the brilliant white underside is visible is a good tactic. Just in case the wing isn't noticed, then a few jumps are needed.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

Here we put it together:

Once he has the attention of a distant female, it's time to draw her in. This means stepping up the game to raise two wings and rotate around!

He simply cannot look any finer than this. How could any female resist?

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

It worked! Here she is taking a closer look:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

She seems to like what she sees, and she lets him know by responding in kind:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

And all that effort paid off:

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Barrow, Alaska

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