You never know what you’ll find by the pungent waters of the High Park retention ponds. Earlier this summer, during the first of our in-person programs, we wandered to the retention ponds in the north-east corner of High Park. A robin-sized bird, with a long probing beak, and yellow legs suddenly caught our eye! In taking a closer look and watching it bob its tail up and down, we quickly realized that this bird was a Spotted Sandpiper!
The Spotted Sandpiper is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. As you may have already guessed by the name, breeding adults will have dark spots on their white underbellies. Although these adorable shorebirds often get mistaken for some their close relatives, like the Common Sandpiper or the Solitary Sandpiper, there are a couple of things that set them a part.
The first is the way in which they walk! They have a distinctive teeter, where they bob their tails up and down constantly.
Another one is their unexpected breeding strategy called polyandry! The females are the first to arrive on the breeding grounds, and as soon as the males appear, the females will display, compete for males, fight, and defend territories. The males incubate the eggs and rear the young alone, while the females mate with other males. A female Spotted Sandpiper can mate with up to four males, each of which then cares for a clutch of eggs. This incredible breeding strategy is, in fact, quite successful!
Keep an eye out for Spotted Sandpipers on your next visit to High Park!