Birds That Fly North For The Winter

“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. This avian species survives and thrives during Alaskan winters despite enduring ice on feathers and feet.

Birds That Fly North For The Winter: How Pribilof Rock Sandpipers Survive Alaska’s Coldest Months

“You can see the mud flat flash-freezing as the tide drops,” in Cook Inlet, Alaska, described Dan Ruthrauff, wildlife biologist with USGS, Alaska Science Center. Temperatures might be 5 degrees or colder and still rock sandpipers 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.”

Wintering Pribilof rock sandpiper science

Wintering Pribilof rock sandpiper science

Birds that Fly North for the Winter: How Pribilof Rock Sandpipers Survive Alaska’s Coldest Months video | Frontier Scientists YouTube

(Wintering Pribilof rock sandpiper science)

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Project Summary

Rock Sandpipers

Rock Sandpipers

Rock Sandpipers in Alaska — Alaska is home to many millions of breeding shorebirds during the summer; typically they leave in the winter. Scientists at USGS Alaska Science Center learned there were birds spending the winter at high latitudes. Despite freezing winter temperatures, rock sandpipers endure and thrive in upper Cook Inlet, Alaska.... Read More >