“Typically when a bird gets any ice on their body it’s game over.” But not for rock sandpipers overwintering on the mudflats of Cook Inlet, Alaska. Watch new videos about rock sandpipers on FrontierScientists.com featuring science about avian puffballs surviving and thriving despite enduring ice on feathers and feet.
Rock sandpipers in Alaska
In Cook Inlet “You can see the mud flat flash-freezing as the tide drops,” described Dan Ruthrauff, wildlife biologist with USGS, Alaska Science Center. Temperatures might be 5 degrees or colder and still the birds stay at the waterline as it moves with the tides– the birds forage for tiny clams hidden in mud. “This is when shorebirds are supposed to be in Mexico and Panama,” Ruthrauff said. Yet the Pribilof rock sandpipers he studies overwinter not far from Anchorage, Alaska. “Life at 61 degrees North is very cold. And these birds are here all winter long, probing in that mud, finding food and making a go of it.” How? The rock sandpipers’ physical traits can undergo major changes between summer and winter. Ruthrauff’s science investigates how the birds exhibit “A lot of flexibility; they can alter their body composition throughout the season.”
Video: Birds that Fly North for the Winter: How Pribilof Rock Sandpipers Survive Alaska’s Coldest Months
Kevin Winker is the curator of birds at the University of Alaska Museum and a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The State of Alaska’s bird collection, housed at the museum, stores bird specimens, genetic samples, tissue samples and skeletons. Scientists from Alaska and from all over the world can borrow samples. “I think showing a full tray of specimens is a way for people to understand how these are records not just of this bird, this time, and this place, but also how that changes through time,” Winker said. “We are preserving them in perpetuity.” He showed a collection of rock sandpipers (Calidris ptilocnemis) carefully preserved at the museum representing ”A permanent record to compare changes in biological diversity in time and in space.” The resource helps scientists explore how shorebirds are responding to changing climate conditions.
Video: What do Shorebirds tell us about climate change?
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