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The Feeding Habits of Waders

The Redshank
Redshank waders usually have
long legs and beaks
The niche that these birds have carved out in our environment is a hard place to live. Most feed where mud and sandy areas become exposed at low tide. They feed on the huge numbers of animals that live in mud and sand, ranging from tiny, almost microscopic snails and worms to large shellfish, crabs and Lug Worms. Their feeding grounds are often exposed to strong winds and driving rain and for most of our waders the sea completely covers their feeding areas twice every twenty-four hours.

When it comes to feeding methods waders can be divided into two main groups: those that feed mainly by sight such as the plovers, and those that feed mainly by touch such as Snipe. Waders that feed by touch feed below the surface, probing into the soft mud or sand with an array of beaks shaped to catch the large variety of animals that live at different depths below the surface. They often only rest when the tide is high and therefore can feed at night. Those that feed by sight on the other hand look for prey on or very near the surface and are usually most active at night at times of a full moon.

The Oystercatcher, one of
the easiest waders to identify

Waders have developed beaks of different sizes and shapes to take full advantage of many types of food that they hunt in mud, sand and earth.

The Curlew has a very long curved beak for extracting worms from deep in the ground while Dunlin have relatively short beaks for taking food on or near the surface. This diversity of beak size and shape allows more species of wader to use the same piece of ground because they are all hunting prey at different levels in that ground. Different species therefore avoid competing for the same type of food. Almost all are opportunists and will eat a variety of food types when available.

All images and text © Jim Wilson 2001.

© RTÉ 2011
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