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Underrated Journeymen

May 09, 2012

Looking out into Unit A you can still see a few gadwall and blue-winged teal waddling around in the shallow water. If you look closer, you may see several shorebirds zipping back and forth, sifting and probing through the soft mud with their beaks looking for bugs. Although they don’t get much credit, if you stop and think about what they are doing and where they are going, you might be amazed.

I know, I know; they are just a bunch of little brown birds that you can’t shoot or eat, so who cares? Well, bear with me for a minute and I’ll explain how they are a great example of wetland variability and resourcefulness.

Not your ordinary killdeer

At first glance the semipalmated plover may look like a common killdeer. However, this bird is less than half the size of its cousin and weighs in at only 45 grams on average. Additionally, it has only one black band across its chest, whereas a killdeer has two broad bands. Another difference between the two is that the semipalmated plover briefly passes through our neck of the woods only twice a year. A one-way trip to or from the breeding grounds near the arctic to the wintering grounds along the coast is roughly 3,000 miles at minimum.

Travel food

No matter what size you are, a journey that far takes a lot of gas. Most shorebirds, plovers included, primarily eat bugs or fly larvae called bloodworms. Bloodworms feed on algae that are busy breaking down plant matter. These larvae emerge during the late winter and early spring as the sun heats up the mud within wetlands, shorelines and flooded agricultural fields. During the spring as the water line recedes and mudflats are exposed these bugs are devoured as the shorebirds move back north to start their annual cycle anew.

Rest stops

On average a 45-gram shorebird, like our semipalmated plover, must forage 8 grams of bloodworms a day for it to survive and have enough fat to help with the next leg of migration. In a wetland area like Duck Creek, a plover could probably find its necessary food requirements within 43 square feet of mudflats per day. Although 40 square feet doesn’t seem like much at first, if you multiply that by several hundred birds over a month, you’ll start adding up some acreage. Luckily, much of this habitat is provided at the same time we draw down water in our wetlands to stimulate moist soil plants or dry things out for food plots.

However, we don’t always have control and seasonal precipitation patterns often play a larger role in habitat availability for shorebirds. For example, think of where the waterlines were at this time last year. Water was everywhere in Southeast Missouri. This year it has been remarkably dry and the waterlines are drastically reduced. Odds are, next year’s habitat conditions will also be different and such is the natural variability of wetland habitats.

Arctic Breeders: Semipalmated plovers aren’t the only species that visit Southeast Missouri on their way to and from the subarctic. More than 89 species of birds can be regularly found along the beach ridges, tundra and wetlands near Churchill, Manitoba during the summer months.
Canada goose in a field
The Eastern Prairie Population of Canada geese is one of these species that breed up north but seasonally visit Missouri’s wetlands. Hunters from Manitoba, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri harvest the majority of this sub-population of geese, which is why these states play an active role in monitoring and managing the population.


To me this is why shorebirds are incredible. They thrive on habitats that are in constant transition and are never in the exact same condition from one year or season to the next. For a person like myself who isn’t always open to change, maybe I should learn something from these small, resourceful little birds.

All in all there are 33 different species of shorebirds that regularly occur within the Mississippi Flyway. They each have a different strategy that allows them to take advantage of the landscape and complete their continental voyage each spring and fall.

I know over the last few paragraphs I haven’t been able to add these birds to the bag or put them on the grill. However, you have to give them some respect for working so hard, travelling that far and not being noticed. There is something to be said about that. Thanks again for your time and interest. We hope you enjoy your next outing on Duck Creek.


Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated plovers are small shorebirds that only weigh 45 grams and fly over 3000 miles during spring and fall migration.


Midges on a mudflat
Midges On A Mudflat
Bloodworms develop into midges, which are small flying insects that look similar to mosquitos.


Wetland Matrix in near Churchill, Manitoba
Wetland Matrix in near Churchill, Manitoba
As summer nears the rich complex of wetlands in the Canadian tundra thaw out and provide suitable breeding habitat to a large number of avian species.


Camoflaged Semipalmated Plover Eggs
Camoflaged Semipalmated Plover Eggs
semipalmated plovers typically lay 4 eggs with the rocks, lichen, and moss on old beach ridges.


To Hook&Bullet I'm an avid waterfowl hunter and have been for quite some time. I also enjoy watching all of Gods creatures in the marsh while I'm hunting, there is nothing wrong with harvesting wildlife for self consumption. The Lord put animals here for food, just because we have grocery stores now doesn't mean we need to quit harvesting game. Without hunters the wildlife would go unchecked, that would lead to overpopulation,disease and starvation, that's not a wise decision. I totally agree that today's young waterfowl hunters have a lot to learn about the sport, and the sad thing is that the ones that are teaching the rookies about it, are rookies themselves. my father taught me how to hunt and fish and also to respect Gods creatures, that's what's lacking today,where are all the fathers ?? It seems today's generation has no respect for anything or anyone.That's sad that parents today do not want to take the time and spend with their kids to teach them about hunting and the outdoors,they would rather send them off with their rookie buddies and let them teach em, not looking real good for the future !!!

to hook and bullet hey buddy there is another 50 states feel free to move to one let mdc agents take care of our resources thats what they get paid to do

Very well written post. It will be valuable to anybody who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

Hook&Bullet?- Nice to know someone who walks on water is looking out for me(us).

I love your posts and I love your little brown birds. I look forward to observing all the migrating birds which arrive after waterfowl season and before the next. I take more pleasure in observing things in the marsh and swamps than being a brainwashed bloody killer wanna-be like so many of these new hunter video game kids are with their fifteen roboducks and pulsating /squirting / wobbling / battery operated gimmick decoys, $1500 dollar shotguns and $30 boxes of shells. They think they do nature a favor like on Duck Dynasty and it is their God-given right to lay bloody waste to whatever creature happens to wander within the pathetic range of their shotguns! These kids (and most adults now as well) have no respect for anything or anybody but themselves and do not even realize this land exists beyond the moment they plant their sorry feet on it and mercilessly expend countless rounds of ridiculously overpriced fad ammuniton on ducks they can't even hope to hit and reduce to their bag. They have no problem with wounding most of their targeted birds without even realizing they have sentenced them to a wasteful death by impaling them with shots taken much too far away. "If its brown its down" and "If it flies it dies" are some of the most appaling slogans I have seen on the back glass of so many trucks these days. I am very sick and weary of MDC catering to this infantile mentality just to collect a few more permits revenue dollars. Your agency has a RESPONSIBILITY!!! to correct this grevious situation! When is the GREAT Missouri Department of Conservation going to wake up and realize they have transformed a respectable idealistic cause into a bunch of sniveling beaurocrats not capable of administering their own lunchbreaks? I see this once noble organization being flushed right down the toilet and every year it gets clogged up a little more! Real soon your toilets are going to start overflowing, exsposing the dirty truth to how much sewage is really being being spewed forth. I'm preaching atop my soapbox now and I apologize. I just wanted you to know I appreciate your articles on this blog site more than you may realize and I think there may yet be hope for your Department with people like you pointing out the things that really matter. Keep up the good work and stay the course!

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