Tringa brevipes (Vieillot, 1816)
Other names: Siberian tattler, gray-tailed tattler, grey sandpiper, grey-rumped sandpiper, ashen tringine sandpiper, greytailed tattler, grey tailed tattler
Geographical variation: Nil
The grey-tailed tattler and the very similar wandering tattler are elegant, medium-sized waders that can be a challenge to separate. The grey-tailed tattler occurs in New Zealand more often, with 5-10 birds present most years, as an overflow from the large population that spends the non-breeding season in northern Australia. The wandering tattler has a more northerly and easterly distribution; it is a familiar bird on many of the islands of the tropical Pacific, but is rarely found in New Zealand. The two species have marked, but not absolute, habitat preferences, with grey-tailed tattlers mainly found on soft substrates in harbours and estuaries, and wandering tattlers more often on rocky headlands and wave platforms. One of the best ways to tell the two apart are from their loud calls given in flight – an up-slurred too-wheet by the grey-tailed tattler, and a rippling pew-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu by the wandering tattler.
The grey-tailed tattler is a medium-sized, straight-billed wader with grey upperparts and white underbody with narrow grey barring on the breast and flanks. Non-breeding plumage is similar, but with plainer underparts with much reduced barring. A white eyebrow stripe extends beyond the eye and contrasts with a dark loral stripe which also continues a little behind the eye. The dark bill grades into dull yellow towards the base, there is a narrow white eye-ring, and the legs are yellow and of medium length. The long wings and tail give an attenuated rear end, adding to the elegant profile. Alert birds often display bobbing movements.
Voice: an upslurred whistle of two (usually) or three notes.
Similar species: the very similar wandering tattler has a rippling 6-10 note call, darker-plumage, a shorter white eyebrow (not extending past the eye), and longer wings. The wandering tattler has wings slightly longer than the tail (they are of similar length in grey-tailed tattler), and wandering tattler has 5 primaries projecting beyond tertials in the folded wing (cf. 4 in grey-tailed tattler). Other differences include wandering tattler having denser and more extensive barring on the underparts in breeding plumage, including on the belly and undertail (white in grey-tailed tattler), and wandering tattler having a nasal groove on the bill extending more than half the distance to the tip (cf. less than half in grey-tailed).
Distribution and habitat
Grey-tailed tattlers breed in Siberia and migrate south to south-east China, south-east Asia and some of the Pacific islands including New Guinea, Micronesia, Fiji and Tuvalu. They are common in Australia, particularly in the north.
Grey-tailed tattlers are mainly found in sheltered coastal areas, on reefs, rock platforms or intertidal mudflats.
New Zealand records
The grey-tailed tattler is a rare but regular visitor to New Zealand, occurring on estuaries, harbours and saltmarshes from Parengarenga Harbour in the north to Awarua Bay in the south. There are many records from the Auckland region, particularly Mangawhai, Kaipara and Manukau Harbours, also Miranda, Waiongana Estuary (New Plymouth), Manawatu Estuary and Ahuriri Estuary (Napier). Most South Island records are from the Nelson region (including Farewell Spit, Motueka and Waimea Inlets) and Kaikoura, also Ashley River mouth, Lake Ellesmere and Southland. Vagrants have occurred on the Kermadec, Chatham, Snares and Auckland Islands, including three on Enderby Island in April 1980, and two there in March 1982.
Behaviour and ecology
The grey-tailed tattler is a long-distance migrant. Birds banded in north-west Australia have been recorded in south-east China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Birds banded in eastern Australia have been recorded in Japan and Taiwan.
Grey-tailed tattlers feed by probing around rocks and rubble, or along the edge of water or on mudflats. They consume polychaete worms, molluscs, crustaceans, insects and occasionally fish . They may take several minutes dropping and throwing crabs to remove legs before consumption.
Chandler, R. 2009. Shorebirds of the northern hemisphere. Christopher Helm, London.
Hayman, P.; Marchant, J.; Prater, A.J. 1986. Shorebirds. An identification guide to waders of the world. Christopher Helm, London.
Higgins, P.J.; Davies, S.J.J.F. (eds) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 3, snipe to pigeons. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Steed, C. 2013 [updated 2017]. Grey-tailed tattler. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates