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Eating ‘Magic Mud’ Is Key To Canadian Shorebird Survival

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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Photo Credit: USFWS

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8:08PM PST on Feb 24, 2012

"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..."

4:06AM PST on Feb 24, 2012

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

5:38PM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Imteresting, thank you.

2:54PM PST on Feb 23, 2012

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.

12:10PM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Thank you for the posting!

11:44AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Interesting article - thanks for posting.

11:00AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Neat! Didn't know this!

10:21AM PST on Feb 23, 2012


10:02AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

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

9:32AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

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

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