To my knowledge, this is the only Spoon-billed sandpiper nest that has ever been filmed. It was an incredibly exciting time for me. Exciting and nerve-racking waiting three days in this windstorm as the four eggs were beginning to hatch, and hoping that I might have the chance to film this bird’s chicks. About the last day and a half I spent in this blind here, listening through headphones to birds with a microphone I had placed near the nest, and watching and filming through my camera. At one point the sound of the chicks became louder and it was clear something was about to happen. After sandpiper chicks hatch they spend a while in the nest. And when they hatch they’re wet and they need to dry and fluff up their down so they’re insulated, inflate their lungs, gain some strength. And then they begin making these brief foraging forays on their own. First very close to the nest and gradually expanding their range. And they start pecking at things and eating whatever they can find. From day one they feed themselves. The adult keeps close tables on the chicks visually and vocally and calls them back to the nest from time to time. And they need to go back to be warmed every five to ten minutes. Sometimes a chick loses track of the nest, gets cold and starts calling, and the adult will actually get out of the nest and call more emphatically guiding the chick back to the nest. This chick looks like it was on one of its first foraging forays. It’s not very strong yet, it’s having a difficult time walking. They really gain coordination and strength quickly, though. You can see the feathers on the back right there going up as the chick tucks in beneath the wing. In the evening there was a rousing series of vocalizations and the female came in to relieve the male on the nest. Males typically incubate during the day and females at night, and there was still one unhatched egg in the nest. At this point the other chicks were all active and hungry. This one took off immediately when she arrived on the nest. But her job was almost done. Soon after the last chick hatches and leaves the nest, the female departs the nesting grounds for the year. And here’s the male leading one of the chicks. And it’s his job to lead the chicks as they feed and grow, and they never return to the nest after that day.End of transcript
Spoon-billed Sandpipers lay four eggs in a simple tundra nest in a shallow depression, most often in mosses, lined with a few dwarf willow leaves. The nest is incubated by both adults on half-day shifts—the male most often during the day and the female at night. After 21 days of incubation the eggs begin to hatch in a process that takes a day or more to complete. When the young finally emerge from the nest they stumble about on well-developed legs and feet and begin to feed themselves. After the last chick emerges, the male begins his job of leading the chicks as they grow towards independence about 20 days later; the female soon departs and begins moving south. This piece captures the first moments of life at a windswept Spoon-billed Sandpiper nest.
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.