A Stint on the Wilson Inlet
The Red-necked Stints returned to the Wilson Inlet about two months ago from their breeding grounds in Eastern Siberia. They are one of our smallest shorebirds, measuring 15cm and weighing about 30g (roughly the same as two fifty-cent coins), yet each year they undertake two journeys of 12,000km within the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, stopping-off somewhere along the coast from Vietnam to northern China to refuel. That’s the same as eight return journeys from Denmark to Exmouth, all by muscle power!
They are omnivorous birds, eating seeds, insects, worms, molluscs and crustaceans. Their weight increases by about 50 percent between arrival and departure, mostly stored as fat, interestingly some of their internal organs shrink prior to departure to accommodate the additional fat and help keep weight down, whilst maintaining a streamlined shape.
In their non-breeding plumage they are pale grey-brown above and white below, this may change just before they depart for Siberia, to a more striking russet neck and russet-dark brown back and speckled crown. They usually gather in flocks whilst on the Wilson Inlet, varying in size from ten or twenty birds to a thousand or more at Morley Beach. If alarmed they take to the air in synchronised flight, changing direction together and flashing brown, then white as either their back or front is seen or become less visible when flying away or towards the viewer, all of which is designed to confuse any raptor in that is in pursuit.
Like many shorebirds they have a muscular stomach, known as a gizzard which crushes its food, especially molluscs. This occurs whilst they are at rest, roosting on sand flats, it is important that disturbance is minimised for these birds so that they are able to recuperate after their long journey and prepare for the next!
As with many other migratory shorebirds, their tidal flat feeding habitat at stopover sites in the Flyway has declined rapidly over recent decades, reducing their ability to reach their destinations in both the northern or southern hemispheres. Even more reason why we need to protect the habitat they need here in Wilson Inlet and along the south coast.