Eating ‘Magic Mud’ Is Key To Canadian Shorebird Survival

Every year, over half of all the world’s western sandpipers stop for a rest on the tidal flats just south of Vancouver, Canada. There they can be seen hopping and pecking around in the mud and water before continuing their northern migration.

It turns out that what the birds are really after is biofilm, a dense, mucous-like layer that forms on the mud. According to Environment Canada researcher Robert Elner, part of an international team that made the discovery, biofilm is actually an energy-rich substance that can make up to 70 percent of the diet of small shorebirds.

Researchers say this ‘magic mud’ is created by bacteria and diatoms that settle out of seawater and secrete mucus that binds them to the mud so they won’t be washed away with the tide. The film is composed of mucopolysaccharides, which is an easy-to-digest, high-energy food. This nutrient-dense ooze apparently helps keep the birds in good shape for migration and reproduction.

The scientists say that discovering the biofilm’s importance is key to not only better understanding shorebird populations, but also creating a more complete picture of the complex and dynamic food webs existent in nature. They also say the connection between shorebirds and biofilm is a “critical” link that could lead to better understanding of the birds, many of which are declining in number globally.

Related Reading:

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Migratory Birds Struggle To Adapt To New Climate

Tar Sands Destroying Wolf & Caribou Populations In Canada

Photo Credit: USFWS

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27 comments

Linda Jarsky
Linda Jarsky3 years ago

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ---St. Francis of Assisi..."

Leiah Sariell
Leiah Sariell3 years ago

Canada has caused so much destruction all over the arctic area of the world, I don't wonder what is in their own country

Isabel A.
Isabel Araujo3 years ago

Imteresting, thank you.

nicola w.
Jane H.3 years ago

Thank you - interesting article - the more we find out about wetlands and tidal zones are so crucial - they nurture juvenile underwater creatures, clean water and provide so much habitat.

Kristina C.
Kristina C.3 years ago

Thank you for the posting!

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago

Interesting article - thanks for posting.

Justyna D.
Justyna D.3 years ago

Neat! Didn't know this!

Glenda L.
Glenda L.3 years ago

Cool!!

John Mansky
John Mansky3 years ago

Now the question is? How can this be added to "our" food? Watch!..

Hope S.
Hope Sellers3 years ago

Interesting article. Who would have thought... Thankfully some scientists did.