National Geographic : 1915 Aug
GREATER YELLOW-LEGS (Totanus melanoleucus). Range: Breeds from Lake Iliamna, Alaska, and southern Mackenzie to southern British Columbia, Ungava, Labrador, and Anticosti Island; winters from southern California, Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia south to Patagonia. The yellow-legs is one of the largest and most conspicuous of our shorebirds, and though greatly reduced in numbers, is still comparatively abundant. Like many other shorebirds, its numbers vary locally and with different years, such fluctuations being chiefly due no doubt to favorable and unfavorable breeding seasons in the far North. On the eastern coast the yellow-legs has learned that flight over the sea to its winter quarters in South America is safer than an all-land route where expectant gunners beset the shores, and this practical knowledge has greatly aided in conserving the species. The bird has a loud and mellow call note which is easily imitated and is often employed in connection with wooden decoys to lure a flock within range of the deadly shotgun. Experience, however, soon teaches the yellow-legs to be shy and suspicious, and its long neck and still longer legs eminently fit it for the post of watchman in a flock of shorebirds. For our big wader has a most friendly disposition, and associates on the closest terms with other members of the long-legged fraternity, both large and small. Hence among them its loud call has come to be recognized as a warning of danger. LESSER YELLOW-LEGS (Totanus flavipes) (See page 148). BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Squatarola squatarola). Range: Breeds on the Arctic coast from Point Barrow to Boothia and Melville Peninsulas; also on the Arctic coast of Russia and Siberia; winters from California, Louisiana, and North Carolina to Brazil and Peru. The "beetle-head" bears a rather close superficial resemblance to the golden plover, with which it sometimes associates, but the sportsman with quarry in hand can instantly distinguish them by a glance at the toes. If there are three toes in front and one behind, his bird is the beetle-head. The golden plover has only three toes. Like the golden plover the beetle-head breeds in Arctic lands, but unlike that bird it uses practically the same fly lines summer and fall. It inhabits both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and also a wide strip of the interior, including the Mississippi Valley. The black-belly was formerly very abundant over most of its range, but has suffered a marked decrease in the past fifty years. It is pos sible that the abolition of spring shooting in a few of the Atlantic States has had an effect in retarding its decrease. It is to be hoped that this is true and that, as all shooting of this species is prohibited until 1918, the beetle-head will make sub stantial gains. If sportsmen and others interested can be convinced that protec tive measures are effective, and that under them some of our more important game birds are materially increasing, it may be possible to secure their cooperation in a really effective enforcement of protective regulations, not only in favor of the pres ent species, but of shorebirds generally. RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres morinella). Range: Breeds on Arctic shores from Mackenzie River east, probably toMel ville Peninsula, and north to Melville Island; winters from central California, Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina to southern Brazil and central Chile. The curious little turnstone or"calico-back" differs inmany respects from other shorebirds. It has a short stoutbill, short stocky legs, and avigorous compact body, and this unusual combination enables ittoperform stunts unknown to shore birds generally. Thus it obtainsno inconsiderable part ofits food by prying over stones, shells, or sods with its bill, for the purpose of securing the small insect life that lurks underneath. Forbush states that formerly the turns t one was of much economic importance along the New England coast, where itwas known to gunners as "chicken plover," and was shot ingreat numbers. This turnstone is notable as being one of thefirst shorebirds tofigure inprotective measures, being protected at night underaMassachusetts law passed in1835, together with the plover, curlew, and doughbird. Though enjoying legal protection, as the phrase goes, the bird was little protected infact, as results show. It is true that the species has lasted till now, but ithas because comparatively un common. Its existence to-day isdue less to the protection itreceived inthe past than to the inaccessibility of itsbreeding grounds inthe far North. Inthe south ern islands, where it winters, itsometimes plays aremarkable role. Who would imagine that one of our small shorebirds could bemade todo duty as agame cock! But Dr. Finsch states (Ibis, 1881) that the natives keep turnstones incages for pets, and match them against each other, asgame cocks are elsewhere matched. BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala) (See page 148). GOLDEN PLOVER(Charadrius dominicus dominicus). Range: Breeds from KotzebueSound along the Arctic coast to mouth ofMac kenzie, and from Melville Island,Wellington Channel, and Melville Peninsula south to northwestern Hudson Bay; winters on the pampas ofBrazil and Argentina. At one season or another thegolden plover occurs over practically all ofthe United States and formerly its numbers were enormous. The migrations ofthis plover are unique among shorebirds. Under ordinary circumstances, the route the bird follows to its Argentinewintering grounds protects itcompletely, since when it leaves Labrador it boldlystrikes across the ocean and, unless deflected by storms, apparently does not foldits wings until itreaches the South American Continent. So long a flight without resting may seem impossible for abird as small as this plover. We know,however, that aclose relative, the Pacific golden plover, flies from Alaska to theHawaiian Archipelago, adistance ofquite 2,000 miles. While the Atlantic species might stop to rest ifitwould, the Pacific coast species has no stopping place between its starting point and its destination. Prob ably, as Cooke surmises, fromfood consideration the Atlantic coast species returns in spring by an all landroute, and passes up the Mississippi Valley in great numbers. Though protected infall from sportsmen by the route itfollows, spring shooting in the MississippiValley has depleted the ranks ofthis plover to a pitiful remnant of its former numbers. The time has indeed long passed when a party of sportsmen, however large, can kill forty-eight thousand plover inaday, as Audubon states was done nearNew Orleans in1821, and now the question to be solved is whether protection during its spring migration comes too late to save the species.