(Burrowing Owl Update Below)
Scientists have studied the Spotted Sandpiper for more than a century. No sandpiper breeds in a broader range in North America. Yet despite sustained study of this widely available bird, there is no scientific consensus about these birds’ characteristic teetering behavior. They bob their heads and usually tails as well when walking and when standing, holding still only occasionally, mostly when the bird is on high alert, or hot in courtship. The dipping motion doesn’t seem to be any kind of adaptation to the environment, as their chicks do it almost as soon as they peck their way out of the shell. This suggests it’s in their DNA, but that only kicks the question down the road. What is it in the eons of bird evolution that has selected and favored this behavior in this species?
You can see Willets teeter occasionally, and Black Oystercatchers do it once in a while, and so do some other species. When a bird does a behavior occasionally it’s easier to ascribe it to some external trigger: maybe a bug is itching it, or it’s feeling stiff, or cold, or has a nit in its eyes, something temporary like that. But when a bird does it almost all the time in every kind of weather and every setting, with rare pauses, it’s a real challenge. So far, the score is Sandpiper 1, Ornithology 0. It’s another entry in my MATWOB file (Mysterious Are The Ways Of Birds).
Burrowing Owl Update
The Burrowing Owl this cold and drizzly morning had moved back to Perch B (yesterday it was at Perch A) where at least the top of its head was visible to park visitors who were tall enough and knew where to look. I assisted a handful of such but did not remain long. During the 15 minutes that I filmed the bird, it remained in the same spot and its only motions were rotations of its head and the dimming and opening of its eyelids. It paid next to no attention to me, my camera on the tall tripod, or the occasional park visitor who strained to see the bird.