A little bird with big ambitions

Purple sandpipers spend the winter around our coasts have flown here from Arctic Canada
Purple sandpipers spend the winter around our coasts have flown here from Arctic Canada

These purple pandpipers on a local beach have a right to look tired!

Research has shown that most purple sandpipers, which spend the winter around our coasts, have flown here from arctic Canada.

You would think, with so many years of bird ringing records now collated, we would know where all our various winter visitors breed.

In most cases we do, but purple sandpipers were a notable exception. We have now entered a new scientific age of bird tracking, thanks to satellites and geo locators.

These tiny electronic locators weigh only a gram and can be attatched to birds to record positional data as they migrate. Having netted the birds and attached these data recorders, you then have to wait until they head home to breed.

Hopefully, your birds will survive and return to Scotland in subsequent winters.

You then do more netting and hope to recover some of your tags for their data.

Highland Ringing Group have been at the forefront of recent tagging and have greatly added to what we know about ‘our’ purple sandpipers. Leaving Scotland around May, some had a stopover in Iceland while others flew on to Greenland.

Soon the Iceland birds joined their Greenland kin before all set of across the Davis Strait to Baffin Island, Quebec and Labrador. As if this is not remarkable enough,a staggering discovery was revealed by data recorders on returned birds.

It turns out they do not bother with the stepping stones of Greenland and Iceland, preferring to set their compasses for Scotland, point themselves to the east and fly direct, all the way across the North Atlantic!

These tiny birds can cover fly this treacherous 3,500km crossing in two and a half days, non stop!

George Hogg, Hogg Estate Services, Wildlife Management