Posts Tagged: Western Sandpiper

What’s in a Name?

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper

This cute juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper is more robust than he looks.  He will travel 1,900 to 2,500 miles to South America this fall.  He gets his name from the short webs between his toes.  Palmated means webbed.  The Western Sandpiper is the only other small sandpiper that has similar feet.[1]  The juvenile birds of the two species are difficult to differentiate.  The juvenile Western Sandpiper has a longer bill that is slightly drooped and more reddish upper scapular feathers than the juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Cedar Waxwing at the Horicon Marsh

Cedar Waxwing

The stunning Cedar Waxwing may also migrate to South America for the winter.  They love to eat berries.  The name “cedar” comes from their love of cedar berries in the winter. The name “waxwing” comes from a red, waxy secretion found at the tips of their secondary feathers.  The red color is a result of their diet of fruit.  If Cedar Waxwings eat more honeysuckle fruit during feather growth, the waxy droplets will be more orange.  The droplets appear waxy but the texture is more like plastic.[2]

Birds, like these, that migrate great distances are part of the reason that the Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.  There are nine criteria for identifying Wetlands of International Importance. These wetlands have significant value not only for the country in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole. One of the nine criteria is “a wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports 20,000 or more water birds.”  Each fall the largest migratory flock of Canada geese in the world migrates through the Horicon Marsh with peak numbers reaching more than 200,000. Three hundred different species of birds have been recorded here.  The Marsh is also home to a number of threatened and endangered species.

The names of birds often highlight fascinating characteristics about them.  The designation as a Wetland of International Importance highlights the vital and essential environment in which these birds live.




[2] David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (New York:  Chanticleer Press, Inc., 2001), 486.