November in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego is a buzzing blend of breeding and nonbreeding shorebirds. For South American shorebirds like Least Seedsnipe (Thinocorus rumicivorus), Rufous-chested Dotterel (Charadrius modestus), and Magellanic Oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus), the breeding season is in full swing. Birds are looking sharp in peak breeding plumage and there is an abundance of territorial behavior. Least Seedsnipe sing and perform flight displays in attempts to court a mate, or they sit atop fence posts to keep a watchful eye. Male Rufous-chested Dotterels aggressively chase each other in and out of disputed territories. Magellanic Oystercatchers elaborately distract us away from nearby nests with tail-flagging displays (Miller and Baker 1980). And Magellanic Plover (Pluvianellus socialis), the small, gray, dove-like shorebird with an estimated population of 1,500 birds (Wetlands International 2019), searches for invertebrates and delicately feeds them to nearby chicks tucked just out of the wind. This is a particularly special sight because only a few shorebird species feed their young, namely oystercatchers and the Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola) of Indian Ocean coasts.
For the shorebirds that have made the long-distance haul to spend the North American winter in the South American summer, their behavior and plumage stands in stark contrast to breeding Austral migrants. White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis and C.bairdii), Red Knots (C. canutus rufa), and Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) are dressed in their dull, nonbreeding plumage. These species are roosting and flying together in mixed-species flocks, behaviors seen during the nonbreeding season.