Shorebirds are one of my favorite group of birds. One reason is because they are amazing world travelers. Technological advances, such as the use of satellite transmitters, has allowed researchers to highlight, in detail, the incredible navigation skills and physical endurance of shorebirds. A project focused on Bar-tailed Godwits is a great example of how satellite transmitters, using the same GPS technology that gets you around an unfamiliar town, can show these birds are able to undertake feats that are almost beyond belief. Satellite transmitters can be used on large species, but Geolocators are useful for small species because they are light-weight. Technology is interesting, but the information provided by the technology is even more interesting. Researchers with Manomet Center for Conservation Science recently shared their results from a geolocator recovered from a Semipalmated Sandpiper up in the Arctic. The researchers posted a nice summary video featuring the sandpiper on YouTube.
Great video and read their summary here.
Even though this bird migrated up the East Coast, Semipalmated Sandpipers are fairly common to common spring migrants in Nebraska. Some migrate through the Midcontinent in fall, but most migrate off the East Coast. Thus, those Semipalmated Sandpipers that migrate through the Great Plains and Nebraska also likely undertake comparable journeys and possibly 3,000 non-stop flights across the Atlantic Ocean to wintering sites in northern South America. It is incredible that an organism that has a brain the size of pea is able to navigate the hemisphere. Just like the title reads, it is more proof birds are cool.
By the way, if you’re wondering about that term semipalmated and its meaning, you’re in luck. “Semi” means partial and “palmated” refers to the webbing (like a duck’s foot) between the bird’s toes. Thus, Semipalmated Sandpipers have partially webbed feet. Something to ponder the next time you see this species in Nebraska.