I’m Dotty for Spotties

Spotted Sandpiper in breeding plumage

Spotted Sandpipers like to have their cake and eat it, too. Not that they really eat cake, of course. On the contrary, like other sandpipers, spotties prefer a diet rich in worms, small crustaceans, and insects. But I’m not talking about their diet here; I’m talking about their breeding plumage. On their undersides Spotted Sandpipers dress to kill, while on their upper reaches they dress to conceal. In other words, they stand out and blend in at the same time.

Spotted Sandpipers, you see, are plain brown above. This makes it easy for them to “disappear” whenever a predator comes by. They simply crouch and freeze. Their plain brown feathers perfectly match the brown mud upon which they feed, and they become almost impossible to spot. I’ve seen even a sharp-eyed Merlin fly right by a Spotted Sandpiper on an open mudflat without knowing one of its favorite foods was right there for the taking.

The underside of a Spotted Sandpiper, though, is a completely different design. Here, the bird sports a wild array of black polka dots on a snow-white background. It’s cute and eye-catching in the extreme, and I can’t see how any female sandpiper can resist.

There are two Spotted Sandpipers hanging out at Shoveler’s Pond right now. You can often see them foraging along the pond edge in the early morning. Occasionally, one becomes really bold and ventures out into the water to hunt for a particularly attractive morsel. This makes the bird dangerously conspicuous, so it usually isn’t long before it seems to ask itself, “What was I thinking?” and rushes back to stand on the mud.

As they hunt and peck for food, Spotted Sandpipers seem compelled to bob their rear ends up and down in a kind of avian mambo. No one knows why they do this, but for a non-dancer like me, it is a treat to watch.

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