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I noticed a couple of Sandpipers today who, after extracting a larger-than-normal morsel from the sand under the receding waves, "strutted their stuff" and dropped the morsel they had discovered for all surrounding Sandpipers to see, and then immediately snatched it up again.

The dropping of the catch did not seem an act of clumsiness, but a very deliberate "Look what I got!"

My impression was that they were proud of themselves and showing their flockmates what good hunter-gatherers they are.

Am I right? Is this a way for a male to show off what a good provider he would be? Or is it just the equivalent of a baboon beating his breast or a football player spiking the ball after scoring a touchdown, or is there some other reason for this behavior?

  • Is it possible the bird simply didn't have a good grip on it and needed to get a better one? I can see this happening often with food that is on the margins of being too big to swallow if it's not facing the right way. – Escoce Jan 31 '16 at 17:55
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    Maybe, but I saw three different "drops" and they all looked more like show-off moves than oops-a-daisy actions. – B. Clay Shannon Jan 31 '16 at 22:07
  • Are you sure it was prey they were dropping? – OddDeer Feb 1 '16 at 12:15
  • @OddDeer: Not 100%, but it looked like small crustaceans; what else might it have been? They picked it right back up again and swallowed it in each case... – B. Clay Shannon Feb 1 '16 at 15:32
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    @OddDeer you mean baby plovers and pipers? No I don't think so. They'll be in the nest until it's time to fledge, at that time they will no longer be cared for by their parents. – Escoce Feb 2 '16 at 16:56
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Where did you observe the Sandpipers? I ask because the Spotted Sandpiper, the most common in North America expresses unique behavior. The females do the domination and not the males. They use dancing and plumage for their mating rituals. If in Europe or elsewhere, it might be the Common Sandpiper, but those are also sometimes spotted here during migration.

Your question is from January. If you made these observations around that time, it was most likely very early for that to be a mating ritual.

The food display may not have been a display at all, but as has been suggested in the comments above, might have just been an effort to re-position and properly take in the food.

Cornell University, the definitive resource for birds in North America has the following information:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/spotted_sandpiper/lifehistory

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    This was in Monterey, California. I haven't seen any sandpipers for months, but hope they will return before long. – B. Clay Shannon Sep 27 '16 at 15:16
  • Yeah, I live in the Bay Area. They will be here soon. I will go out and see if the behavior you observed is seen where Sandpipers gather in large numbers. – Srihari Yamanoor Sep 27 '16 at 15:31
  • That's a nice picture on your profile page; I just got back from a trip to Bishop, and it looks like it could be somewhere over there in the Eastern Sierra off of Hwy 395. – B. Clay Shannon Sep 27 '16 at 15:36
  • Which page are you referring to? I can help pinpoint the location better. – Srihari Yamanoor Sep 27 '16 at 15:39
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    Thanks; we have a trip planned to Sedona next year; we were in Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley, the Four Corners/Mesa Verde, as well as Arches and Canyonlands some years back. Now I feel like reading Edward Abbey again. – B. Clay Shannon Sep 27 '16 at 16:03

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