Spotty scrapping


Spotted Sandpipers are somewhat unusual for they have a sexual role reversal: Males are largely passive; Females are territorial, sexually aggressive, and promiscuous. Previous years, I have captured scenes of sexual aggression, and mating. I now seem to have recorded rival females fighting over territory.

The observations began sweetly enough: Two spotties copulated at the the water’s edge.

Upon completion, each bird flew maybe six metres along the beach where there was another Spotted Sandpiper. But, their similarity meant that it wasn’t possible to tell which was which.

Promptly a fight began when one bird grabbed the other by the bill. Given recorded spotty behaviour, both are almost certainly females. 

The fight carried on in the air, 

on the beach, 

and a mixture of beach and air.

Which bird prevailed is unclear, but one of them was eventually driven off. 


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3 Responses to Spotty scrapping

  1. Lorna says:

    Wow! Quite a battle. A good thing someone was standing by to record it. Thank you.

  2. Trevor Goward says:

    Hi Alistair

    Wow! To me this looks almost ritualized. Am I right in thinking that the beak-grabber managed to hold onto the beak of the other bird throughout the skirmish? Is this what was at stake: beak dominance?

    Some classic shots here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Alistair says:

      Trevor, I have learned subsequently that during the breeding season, females will spar over both mates and territory (which maybe amounts to the same thing). As to the tactic of grabbing the beak, there is rather sparse (read, no) data on this. (However a tactic of taking out your opponent’s principal weapon is well established in all manner of conflicts.) Whether the beak was held continuously could not be determined as the action was furious and the birds often had their backs to me. As to this being ritualized — how could one possibly know what that even means for Spotted Sandpipers. Yet, it seems that such a conflict has only rarely been recorded photographically.

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