Solitary Sandpipers

Although knowledge about the status and biology of Montana’s birds is far from complete, we have a pretty good handle on which species on the state list breed and which do not. Most of the recent additions to the state breeding list have come from species that are expanding their range northward from the Great Basin, including Gray Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Great-tailed Grackle, and Black-throated Gray Warbler (Hendricks 2004, Marks et al. 2016). Another addition, the Arctic Tern, normally breeds at high latitudes but inexplicably has nested several times on a prairie wetland in north-central Montana (Dinsmore and Jorgensen 2001).

The next species to be documented breeding in Montana just might be the Solitary Sandpiper, which normally nests in the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada, and which is unique among North American shorebirds in laying its eggs in old passerine nests in trees. In the 1980s and 1990s, breeding was suspected (but not confirmed) at two locales in Oregon well south of the normal range (Sawyer 1981, Lundsten 1996). More recently, breeding evidence has come from Glacier National Park, where single adults were observed perching in trees and vocalizing at two different lakes in the summer of 2007, and where two vocalizing birds were found at a third lake in late spring 2010 (Marks et al. 2016). All three sites are on the west side of the park in habitat that is identical to that of breeding sites in Canada. It is not uncommon to see migrant Solitary Sandpipers in Montana in late summer, but such birds are busy feeding in open wetlands and are not exhibiting territorial behavior amidst boreal forest. As stated by Paulson (1993: 162), “breeding birds commonly perch in trees, while migrants do not.”

In the summer of 2018, the Montana Bird Advocacy will begin surveying small lakes on the west side of Glacier National Park in search of nesting Solitary Sandpipers. We hope to assemble a small team of dedicated volunteers who will hike into lakes and watch and listen for sandpipers, and hopefully document breeding by finding nests or observing flightless young accompanied by their parents. Please contact Jeff or Paul if you are interested in helping our efforts to obtain a complete list of the breeding avifauna of the state!

Literature Cited

Dinsmore, S. J., and J. G. Jorgensen. 2001. Arctic Terns nesting in Montana: First modern interior breeding records for the lower 48 United States. North American Birds 55: 127-131.

Hendricks, P. 2004. First nesting record of Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) for Montana. Western North American Naturalist 64: 548-550.

Lundsten, J. 1996. Solitary Sandpiper nesting in Marion County, Oregon? Oregon Birds 22: 40-41.

Marks, J. S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Buteo Books, Arrington, Virginia.

Paulson, D. 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. UBC Press, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Sawyer, M. 1981. Solitary Sandpiper: Probable nesting in Oregon. Oregon Birds 7: 131-133.

 Distribution of the Solitary Sandpiper (courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Distribution of the Solitary Sandpiper (courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

 Territorial Solitary Sandpiper perched in tree at Howe Lake, 23 June 2007 (Chris Peterson photo).

Territorial Solitary Sandpiper perched in tree at Howe Lake, 23 June 2007 (Chris Peterson photo).

 Migrant Solitary Sandpiper feeding in prairie wetland (Eugene Beckes photo).

Migrant Solitary Sandpiper feeding in prairie wetland (Eugene Beckes photo).