THE WANDERING TATTLER is a rare wading bird that breeds along glacial streams on the eastern flank of the Alaska Range in the interior of Alaska. Outside the breeding season, these birds inhabit the rocky headlands and islets along the Pacific coast of North and South America. During the breeding season they have been found nesting regularly in Mount McKinley National Park where they inhabit the open gravel bars near the heads of mountain streams.
The tattler is a medium-sized bird about 11 inches long. Its black slender bill is about as long as the bird's head. The adult is plain slate gray above, with heavy gray broken bars on the throat and under parts.
These birds are quiet and secretive during the first part of the breeding season and as long as the eggs are in the nest. This is particularly true when they leave or approach the nest, which is well hidden among the rocks. As soon as the young are hatched, however, the parent birds become exceedingly bold and noisy. They then perch on the top of a willow or other vantage point where they keep a close lookout for danger. Upon the approach of intruders they utter their strident warning calls, fly out to meet them and, if possible, divert their attention from the chicks. After they have succeeded in decoying the intruders away they again become quiet and silently sneak back to their offspring. The male (see illustration) shares family duties with the female.
A few hours after the chicks are hatched their gray downy coats become dry and these hardy youngsters leave the nest and begin to seek their own food which consists of tiny insects.
The young tattlers, as a rule, instantly heed their parents' warning cry and crouch flatly on the gravel, where their gray backs blend perfectly with the rocks. They remain motionless as long as the danger signal is given. When the chicks become older they run about more independently, and instead of hiding by squatting out in the open, amid the bare rocks, they hide in the grass and flowering plants lining the banks of streams. If closely pursued, these older chicks will swim boldly across a stream with a fairly swift current to escape from their pursuers. Fortunately the nesting grounds of this and other rare species lie within a national park, where they are protected by the National Park Service.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010