Posted by Beth Anne Quinlan, PhD Avian Sciences on 8/31/2019 to Wild Birds
It’s Labor Day weekend and, like many, we headed to the ocean to enjoy the last days of summer. Driving to the beach, we passed through Duplin County and saw an advertisement for a winery with a sandpiper on the same billboard. After reaching a rest area that is also a wildlife sanctuary, I saw a poster with a picture of medium-sized sandpiper that was identified as a Dunlin. So as we drove on, I wondered if the county was named for the bird and a miss-spelling had occurred. A search of the internet revealed that, in 1750, the county was named for Sir Thomas Hayes, Lord Dupplin.
OK. So what about the cute little bird? In 1758, Carl Linnaeus wrote the first scientific description of the dunlin. It was named by combining the Celtic words “dun” or dune and “linne” or pool, so these names are of completely differing origin. Dunlins are found in both North America and Eurasia. They breed in wet, coastal tundra regions and winter along sandy beaches (such as the North Carolina shore), estuaries, mudflats, and the shores of lakes and ponds.
During breeding season, the male dunlin has a large black area on its belly and black legs, making it relatively easy to identify. In our area, where we only see the dunlin in winter plumage, they appear gray-ish brown from above with a white breast below. The dunlin picks its diet of crustaceans, worms, coquina and other mollusks from the ground by dipping its beak repeatedly into the ground much like a sewing machine.
The population of dunlin in North America is stable in the groups breeding in Eastern Canada and Western Alaska. The third breeding group, which breeds in Northern Alaska and winters in Asia, has declined by over 30% during the last decade. As a result of this trend, the Dunlin is listed on the 2014 Yellow Watch list, which includes birds that are range restricted and those showing troubling declines. Their decline is believed to be predominantly due to disappearing wetlands.
This ground nesting bird typically lays 2-6 eggs which are incubated by both parents. The parents both feed the chicks for several days until their offspring are able to feed on their own. In less than a month, the young birds are capable of flight.
Plan a trip to enjoy these beautiful sandpipers as they migrate through your area this fall, or this winter when they reach the coastal areas of the vast portion of the continental United States. Not able to get to the beach? Then, select a beautiful sandpiper item to add to your home!