Buff-breasted Sandpiper - Spectacular lek display

In the extreme northern arctic of Alaska and Canada, in the grassy tundra of the coastal plain lives the Buff-breasted Sandpiper — a remarkable species of Shorebird. This species looks like no other species in North America: they have golden, ochraceous plumage flecked with spots and scallops of black, matching the dry, blondish grasses of the low tundra of their summer homes; they possess a short, delicate pointed bill and bright yellow legs; and are the only species with a lek mating strategy, with males gathering to display to females on grassy tundra courts. This display, and occasional copulation with visiting females, represents the entirety of the investment into breeding made by males. Males often begin with single up-wing displays, thought to attract the attention of females from a great distance, followed by a dramatic two-wing dance, with the male tipping back on bent legs, puffing out the chest, bill pointed upwards and accompanied by clicking vocalizations and mechanical sounds produced by the brushing of wing feathers. Females approach and seem to inspect the dance and quality of the bright white, finely patterned underwings of the male. Some successful displays result in copulations, others with the female moving on to view the displays of other nearby males.

Watch this video (with the sound ON) created from a sequence of photos of the dramatic two-winged display of a male Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I have looped the sequence back to back to give you a chance to check out the amazing detail in these frames. The beautiful audio track was recorded by Gerrit Vyn at a different time and place with a large parabolic microphone. Listen for the sounds of wing feather movement and the amazing clicking vocalizations as the male performs his display to a nearby female.