On this beautiful evening I had my first chance to really film the foraging behavior of a pair of spoon-billed sandpipers in this shallow wetland. This is a little call that the male uses as a contact call when he’s foraging with a female, and often times she’ll respond. Here’s the female, and this is during the period when the female is laying eggs but the clutch is not yet complete, so they’re not incubating yet. You can see her white under tail coverts there are really bulged out and you can often tell when a female’s laying eggs because she’s really distended in that area. While she’s foraging she’s also trying to conserve energy. One way she does this is by not flying, and they become very reluctant to fly. This female is actually swimming across open water at times to avoid flying. Here’s the male again, and you can see he forages by walking around and visually spotting things on the surface or just under the surface and snatching them up. And this is how they usually forage on the breeding ground and it’s very similar to the way most small sandpipers forage on the breeding grounds. So they’re not really making any special use of that spoon-bill. They’re just picking up larvae and adult invertebrates like midgets and flies and mosquitos, and also some plant material like grass seeds that have collected on the surface. I did get this one piece of footage here where the bird is actually foraging in a way that’s more commonly seen on the wintering grounds. You can see these rapid bursts of stitching movements, and it’s probably feeding tactilely here in the sediments, not visually picking things off the surface. During this period, the male is still very territorial, announcing his territory and guarding his mate. That call there is the spoon-bill’s most aggressive proclamation of territory and it’s the loudest call they give. He’ll continue like this until the female is done laying eggs and incubation begins, and then they’ll really quiet down.

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The common foraging behaviors of Spoon-billed Sandpipers on the breeding grounds differ significantly from their behaviors on the wintering grounds. Birds move more slowly and pick food items—invertebrates and small amounts of plant material—from the surface in a fashion similar to most other small sandpipers. In this segment, a mated pair forages along the edge of a snowmelt pond during the egg-laying period of their nesting cycle.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world. To learn more about the threats they face on breeding, migration, and wintering grounds, as well as efforts to save them, see our feature article from Living Bird magazine.