Bird Watcher's General Store

Sandpiper Sightings - 09/01/00


Dear Bird Folks,

We have been visiting the Cape every summer for years. Sometimes we see lots of sandpipers on the beach and some years we don't see any. We are not always here the same weeks each year, could that be the reason?
- L.J., Birmingham, Alabama

Hey L.J,

How y'all doin? Yup, that is the reason. Sandpipers are not here all summer, it's too crowded. In fact, most shorebirds are only visitors. They only stop here on their way to someplace else. For all of June and part July, most shorebirds are up on the breeding grounds in northern Canada.

Shorebirds, unlike the songbirds that nest around here, don't "raise" their young birds by flying to the nest with a mouth full of worms. Because of the short nesting season way up north and because of the very long southward migration, adult shorebirds head out long before their offspring are ready to fly. Young shorebirds basically raise themselves. They learn very little from their parents. Finding food, learning to fly and even migration itself is all passed on by the parents genetically. The parents mate, lay the eggs, hatch the eggs and head out. they don't see their kids ever again, unless they happen to run into them at some south American Club Med.

On the way south, the birds need to take a break. That's where Cape Cod comes in. Shorebirds stop here for a few weeks to chow down and rest before they continue south. The first good numbers of shorebirds, the adults, show up in mid July and by August their kids start to arrive. The birds need to stop and refuel, but just as important, they need to rest. And finding a quiet place to rest can be the most difficult thing as the birds must fight ORVs, dogs, nude sunbathers, and geeky bird watchers for a place to rest along the beach. After a few weeks of resting and putting on weight (like most vacationers), the birds become restless, pack up and go. Many birds will fly non-stop to their wintering grounds in South America. That's right, the birds fly non-stop from Cape Cod to South America. It seems unbelievable, but many birds fly straight through, no snacks at the drive thru, no Motel 6, no nothin'. They are completely focused on getting to their wintering grounds.

So LJ, it depends on when in the summer you are here. If you are here in the early summer, you probably won't see many sandpipers at all, but if you are here in late summer, you should see plenty of them. However, if you are on Cape Cod in August and you still aren't seeing many shorebirds at the beach, then perhaps you need to spend more time looking for birds and less time looking for those nude sunbathers.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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