For the Birds Radio Program: Upland Sandpiper
Last week I got an email from my friend Becky Miller, who had just had a close encounter with an Upland Sandpiper. This is a species I’m lucky to see once or twice a year and have never seen in my backyard, but Becky saw hers on her veranda. She wrote:
This morning, about sunrise, I heard a loud thump from my bedroom. I quickly dressed, went downstairs and after searching all over found - nothing. Brewed my coffee, read the paper, checked e-mail, got on with my day and forgot about the noise.
Then about dusk I was in my bedroom and on my “veranda” deck, off the south side of the bedroom- was a bird, a water bird, just pacing back and forth, back and forth. He looked to me like a small version of a roadrunner and after looking through pictures in my bird book we decided he was an Upland Sandpiper.
He must have been flying early in the morning as the sun was coming up, which was obscured by the clouds, and seeing the big windows in our bedroom, thought that was his flying course. I’m sure when he hit the glass - that was the sound I heard. The veranda is about three feet wide by nine feet long and has a solid wall about three and a half feet high. There are also two chairs on the deck. So there he was, recovered from his collision with the glass - but, as deduced by our son, Rud, without enough takeoff room to gain altitude to continue his journey.
Poor dear, just pacing back and forth, depositing bodily fluids from time-to-time, depending on the dangers he perceived. Rud opened the door out to the deck and moved both the chairs down to one end - still not giving him enough runway to get airborne. I then went out on the deck and was finally able to trap him in a corner, pick him up and give him a gentle toss off the “third” floor deck and off he flew. He first flew directly south, over Lake Superior, then headed east and finally ended up flying north, back over the house, as if he was giving us a ‘thumbs up’ and a thank you.
It sounds like Becky’s scenario is exactly what happened. This bird had apparently been migrating by night, and come morning, it started flying lower, ready to come down for the day. Windows are disorienting and confusing to birds—as many as a billion are killed in window collisions every year. Fortunately, this was one of the survivors.
Upland Sandpipers are elegant shorebirds that don’t really live on the shore—as their name indicates, they live on upland grasslands. They spend about four months of the year in North America, and then after the breeding season, they head down to South America, migrating by night. They spend more than half of their lives in the Argentina pampas. With luck, Becky Miller’s bird is well over Mexico by now, or, if it was headed in an easterly direction, down in the Bahamas or Lesser Antilles, enjoying a bit of tropical life before moving on to more temperate zones of South America for the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. They don’t breed down there, and tend to be rather evenly spaced and solitary out on the pampas, where they are called chorlo solo, meaning the “solitary plover.” With luck, this bird is done alighting on veradas for a while. I’m glad if it had to bonk into a window, it had time to recuperate and that there was a friendly person like my friend Becky to help it out and send it on its way.