June 18, 2014
Bopping and scampering along the shore, a medium sized grey bird hunts for prey. Their distinctive movements communicate that they are hunting in the shallows for small prey. The targets are small marine organisms like worms and crustaceans, but they consume bugs in large quantities as well. These shorebirds with their jerky movements and grey-brown feathers are the Wandering Tattlers.
The species ranges from 26 to 30 centimeters in length with a wingspan of 50 to 55 centimeters. Their long beaks are designed to peck within the sand, water, and small crevices between rocks. Long thin legs make wading into the water for marine prey like worms and insects easy. Plumage of the Wandering Tattler makes a dramatic shift from breeding season to winter months. During the summer its chest and belly feathers are white with distinct black-grey horizontal bars while its dorsal side is mottled greys and browns. The winter months bring a change to the belly feathers making them a light grey while dorsally the plumage darkens but the overall shade remains the same. The 'tattler' portion of its curious name comes from the call it makes a high to low pitched repeating sound.
Wandering Tattlers (Tringa incana) are summer residents of Skagway. Their breeding plumage is on full display during our busiest season and they can often be found out in Dyea. They are most visible when walking on the shores of the tidal flats, especially near or on the mouth of the Taiya River. Although they tend to blend in with the surroundings due to their natural toned grey-brown plumage, they are easily spotted when moving. The distinctive body bobbing and quick, almost jerky, movements on the edge of the water helps distinguish them from their habitat. The image below was taken by the Natural Resources team during one of our breeding bird surveys.
Although their summer homes are primarily in Alaska and Canada, their winter homes are scattered south of the Pacific Northwest. They winter primarily along the west coast of the Americas from California to Chile but are also occasional visitors to the South Pacific Islands. Some Tattlers have even been found as far south as Australia! The migration range of these wanderers can be as much as 8,000 miles. If you find yourself near the Pacific Northwest Coast this summer, keep your eyes peeled for Wandering Tattlers. They will often blend in with the shore rocks, but if you watch carefully their spontaneous movements will give them away.