Arctic Species: Purple Sandpiper

Next are a group of more inconspicuous tundra breeding birds, the waders. They are well camouflaged and are often difficult to find. The most common member of this group on Spitsbergen is the Purple Sandpiper. They make a nest on the tundra and rely on their camouflage to avoid predation. When a predator (or you) comes too close, it’ll walk away from the nest and pretend to be injured. This way they try to lead the predator away from the nest. So when you see an adult behaving like this, it’s best to either retrace your steps or just to follow the bird as he’ll make sure to lead you away from its nest.

the chick of a Purple Sandpiper (with a watchful parent in the back).

When the eggs hatch, the chicks will immediately leave the nest and start feeding for themselves. At first, they will need to warm up under the wings of one of the parents every now and then, but this becomes less frequent when they get larger. During this phase, they also rely on their camouflage and the chicks will often hide under the wings of the parents in case of danger.

An adult Purple Sandpiper with colour rings

At the end of summer, Purple Sandpipers will aggregate in large flocks of sometimes up to 100 birds, before they start their migration south. Colour ring programs have shown that the Spitsbergen population mainly winters along the shores of Scandinavia, but there are also ring recoveries from birds in Scotland.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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