Zenfolio | Kittiwake Nature Photography | The Mating Dance of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The Mating Dance of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper

August 09, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

"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 SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

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 SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperTofield, 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 SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, 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 SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

Here we put it together:

Buff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

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!

Buff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

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

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

It worked! Here she is taking a closer look:

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska She seems to like what she sees, and she lets him know by responding in kind:

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska

And all that effort paid off:

Buff-breasted SandpiperBuff-breasted SandpiperBarrow, Alaska


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