Ready to go Little Stints at Barberspan Bird Sanctuary

Posted by Prof. Les Underhill/Animal Demography Unit, South Africa

This news item is part of the ADU’s celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, this weekend 8???9 May.

Post doc Magda Remisiewicz has made numerous expeditions from Cape Town to the Barberspan Bird Sanctuary for her fieldwork over the past three years: “We have just returned from our last trip to Barberspan this spring-summer season and achieved this expedition’s main goal of ringing and examining Little Stints to check their fat deposits and the development of their breeding plumage just before they depart on migration to the northern breeding grounds in the Siberian tundra.

“The Little Stints we caught were nearly double their usual body mass, weighing 40g???42g. I have never seen birds so tightly packed with fat. The fat deposit under the Little Stint???s thin skin formed a massive cushion extending over the underparts from the furculum, over the pectoral muscles and the belly to the base of the hind limbs. Once these birds took off, they should certainly have made it to Kenya or further in one flight. The Little Stints had put on almost complete breeding plumage, with soft white edges to their chestnut-and-black body feathers. You rarely see them that white, because these edges wear away by the time the Little Stints reach the breeding grounds and they look much darker, the cryptic design they need in the tundra where they will be breeding in about six weeks’ time.

“Barberspan was Kittlitz’s Plover heaven as usual. We saw eggs and chicks as well as flocks of immatures a few months old feeding alongside adults on the swarms of minute biting flies, which were in turn feeding on us. Many recaptures of Kittzlitz’s Plovers and of other waders ringed during the SAFRING Ringers’ Conference in March provided excellent data. The surprise was a catch of about 30 Crowned Lapwings mist-netted at full moon. During the past six months we have followed the seasonal changes in bird numbers and species composition. At any time of the year Barberspan Bird Sanctuary is a fantastic ringing and birding site. The winter visitors such as Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Crimson-breasted Shrike are now arriving in numbers.”

The Animal Demography Unit (formerly the Avian Demography Unit), or ADU as it is mostly known in the vernacular, is a research unit of the University of Cape Town. Initially it was built on the nucleus of the South African Bird Ringing Unit (SAFRING) and the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP). The ADU was established in December 1991 within the Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Cape Town. Over the years, the ADU has grown far beyond its starting point. In January 2008 the ADU was formally transferred to the Deparment of Zoology. The mission of the Avian Demography Unit is to contribute to the understanding of animal populations, especially population dynamics, and thus provide input to their conservation. We achieve this through mass participation projects, long-term monitoring, innovative statistical modelling and population-level interpretation of results. The emphasis is on the curation, analysis, publication and dissemination of data. For more details please visit our website at


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