This morning I headed out around the county hoping I might spot something new or unusual. I had some nice birds in several spots, but the birds of the day were Spotted Sandpipers. I have never seen a Spotted Sandpiper hatchling! Every year, usually at Morningside Park, I come across a clutch or two of nearly full grown chicks that still have downy tufts on their heads and shoulders. I have never come across the chicks when they have just hatched. Today, that changed. I spotted a Sandpiper, which began making strange noises. It almost clucked for want of a better word and I immediately knew there had to be chicks nearby. Not wanting to disturb the birds, I just kind of settled in, watching the area to see what would happen. First, a second adult showed. It too made some clucking/cooing sounds, but also gave a number of alarm calls which prompted the first bird to do the same. I remained put, watching both birds when suddenly, something shot across an opening in the grass. I was sure it was a chick. Things eventually settled down, and both sandpipers began feeding and behaving as if I weren’t there. That’s when a chick came out along a puddle and began feeding. It would disappear back into the grass in an instant and it was hard to get a photo. Finally I got a couple of shots when the chick was joined by a second chick. The adults* kept close eye on them, one never moving to far away from them, and the other remaining only twenty feet from me. It was as if it were in a buffer zone, and would give some calls every minute or two. I felt the bird wanted to keep my attention on it, rather than the chicks. I remained with the birds for over half an hour, enjoying every minute! I finally left them in peace, none the worse for wear. This was a totally new experience for me, after 23 years of birding! * continue reading below the photos.
I refer to the birds as “the adults”. The reason for that is, Spotted Sandpipers practice “Polyandry”. That means that a female will mate with and lay eggs for more than one male. The male then incubates the eggs and rears the chicks. Once she is done breeding, the female may assist one of the males in the rearing of the chicks. In the case of these birds, I happen to know that the female had two mates. The likelihood is that the birds I saw today were the male, his chicks (?) and the female. That however may not be true, and there may have been additional chicks in the dense expanse of grass that I was unable to see (in fact it is likely that there were more than two chicks even if it was one clutch). The reason I put the question mark above is, she mates with several males, and a single clutch can and often does contain chicks from different fathers. In fact, if she goes on to have a second breeding this summer, she may mate with entirely different males and yet produce chicks from these fathers. I don’t know about you, but I find this whole thing fascinating!