Western Sandpiper Migration Motus Detections
We seek to understand how birds use the habitats available and how that will change as we work to create more diverse plant communities. We also host researchers that document migrations of raptors and songbirds across MPG.
In this section of the research pages, you will find links to reports and updates from all the researchers involved with avian ecology, posted chronologically. The links will show you more in-depth reports on our findings. The three main projects covered here are:
Songbird Counts- A grid of sampling points covers MPG with 560 points. We visit each point 3 times a year, once in winter and twice during the songbird breeding season. We record, by ear or by sight, all the birds near that point for 10 minutes.
Songbird Banding- The University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab, UMBEL, runs several trapping stations at MPG as part of their regional songbird monitoring program. UMBEL sets up very fine nets that are nearly invisible to birds in brushy habitats. Songbirds fly into the nets and become entangled. The researchers take the birds from the nets and affix a numbered band to their leg before releasing them.
Raptor Research- The Raptor View Research Institute monitors raptor populations on MPG and counts raptors that migrate past MPG in the spring and fall. Raptor View researchers have placed transmitters on osprey and golden eagles that use the Bitterroot Valley.
A Western Sandpiper forages in sand and mud at Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area, Montana, U.S. Photo credit: Nate Kohler.
Western Sandpipers breed in northwestern Alaska. They are even called “Alaska’s Sandpiper” in Spanish and French. As their common name suggests, they migrate over a vast swath of western Canada and the U.S. to winter along the Pacific coast. Some individuals reach as far south as Panama. However, other Western Sandpipers take a completely different route and fly east, ending up on the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.
This range map displays the distribution of Western Sandpipers. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds. Accessed 17 February 2021 at https://www.allaboutbirds.org.)
The different migratory strategies of Western Sandpipers have confused researchers for decades. It is unclear whether sandpipers and other shorebird species stop along their migration routes or if they fly long distances in one bout.
A Western Sandpiper is banded and equipped with a Motus tag for the Pacific Shorebird Motus Project in San Francisco Bay, California. Photo credit: Nils Warnock.
Birdwatchers observe Western Sandpipers each year in western Montana. At MPG Ranch, the Nocturnal Flight Call Project has detected many shorebird species but not a Western Sandpiper. Despite the sightings in our area, the lack of acoustic recordings during migration suggests Western Sandpipers differ in their migration strategy or detectability compared to other shorebirds. But with the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (www.motus.org), we can now follow individual shorebirds, like Western Sandpipers, across sections of their migratory routes.
Researchers from the Pacific Shorebird Motus Project tagged Western Sandpipers on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. They did not expect many detections in Montana, so biologists were surprised when Motus stations picked up several birds in the Bitterroot Valley this fall.
This map represents some migratory movements of Western Sandpipers tagged on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, CA (Birds Canada 2021), showing both southerly and easterly fall migrations.
Our array of Motus stations at MPG Ranch detected three Western Sandpipers. Another bird flew past a Motus station at the Teller Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis. It was detected again by a station 12 miles south in Darby, only nine minutes later.
Biologists equipped this Western Sandpiper with a Motus tag in Mazatlán, Mexico. Photo credit: Juanita Fonseca.
The Motus network is still growing in the West. Due to a lack of stations to our south, we are uncertain where these tagged sandpipers were going. New Motus stations are planned to be installed this year in the Midwest and Southwest, helping researchers zero in on the Western Sandpiper’s routes and habitat use.
A Western Sandpiper wades in Roberts Bank, British Columbia, CA. Photo credit: Jason Puddifoot.
We thank Mark Drever and the Pacific Shorebird research crew for sharing pictures and background information on their research.
Motus Data and Map
Pacific Shorebird 2021. Pacific Shorebird Motus Project. Data accessed from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Bird Studies Canada. Available: http://www.motus-wts.org/. Accessed: 17 February 2021.