A sanderling’s life

This 5 November 2011 video from Canada is called SANDERLINGS – Sandpipers in Motion – Cap-Pele, NB.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

The life of G3BGGW – 12 February 2015

No, not a character from Star Wars. G3BGGW is a sanderling which was ringed in Iceland in May 2013. He was found dead on February 1, 2015 on Texel. What makes this bird so special is that he was not only seen several times in the past two years, but he was even seen alive a day before his death. So, the day of his death is very accurately known, something bird researcher Jeroen Reneerkens has experienced only a few times. Such small birds are almost never found when they die, let alone so quickly.

What’s in a name?

Thanks to his rings this sanderling was recognizable. When he came in sight of the telescopes of various bird watchers, viewers have noted the series of rings and passed the information on to the ring station. The letters in his name are about the colours: G = green, B = blue, W = white; the numeral 3 indicates that one of the rings is a flag, in this case a green flag, this was on “position 3”: above the rings on the left leg. Bird rings are read from left to right and from top to bottom.

Winter beach guest

Sanderlings are found on Dutch beaches outside the breeding season, so from late July to late May. The largest numbers you see on beaches in the winter months. They breed in the far north. … Those little birds that fast run back and forth with the surf – that are sanderlings. It seems like they are trying to go as close as possible to the water without making their feet wet. But actually they are looking for worms that appear quickly from the sand when the seawater flows over them. In the water there is plankton on which the worms feed. The birds try to catch the worms.


In Iceland G3BGGW was ringed and weighed. He weighed 71 grams and had OK fat stores to fly even further towards Greenland to breed. In winter sanderlings slim to about 50-55 grams. Five months later, he was seen on Texel, north of beach post 12. Then he came back a year later on the island, on November 5, 2014 at beach post 9. Presumably he remained until his death in this environment. Two days before his death he was seen on the parking lot near the beach. That is very strange for such a beach bird. There it cannot find food. The birdwatcher thought that he did not look too healthy there. The next day the bird was seen again on the beach and the next day he lay dead along the road to this beach.


Jeroen Reneerkens for years has been doing research into sanderlings. To do that, he has a large network of people in many countries who help with the rings and retrieval of this species. Except for Iceland also in Greenland, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Mauritania, Ghana and Namibia research teams are involved. There are 6,000 birds ringed and 61,000 observations noted. A chore, but it provides a lot of information on which the survival of sanderlings can be mapped accurately. Furthermore, the scientists discovered that while most sanderlings are worm eaters, they eat shellfish only in Ghana! They swallow them in their entirety and so have strong stomach muscles. The life of bird G3BGGW is not over. Jeroen will investigate this bird further. By viewing its organs and fat, he hopes to find out why the animal died: by disease, age, something else? Such a fresh dead bird is an unique opportunity!

11 thoughts on “A sanderling’s life

  1. Dear Kitty – thank you for this heart warming/cooling post. I love these small birds. I used to watch them on an island off the town of Port Fairy in Victoria, southern Australia. Such busy delightful and beautiful little birds. I can’t help wondering if it might have had a more exotic name if we could have translated the words of the wind and the sounds of the sea and the names that others of its kind might have uttered. Numbers and letters seem so insignificant. I wonder if being tagged brought about it’s premature death ? Or perhaps it ate something human in the parking lot ? I remember when I was a scientist, I would watch other scientists do things to animals in the name of learning, while being immune to the feeling of the animal. Despite the cruelty of being tagged, such precious animals do deserve our understanding, appreciation and protection.

    Thanks for bringing to light, the plight and life of this wondrous little bird.

    Many bows to you for your heart felt blog,

    Bright Garlick.


    • Thanks for your comment, Bright! If done properly, tagging birds does not harm them. This sanderling lived for about two years after the tagging, flying all the way from Texel to Greenland and maybe even further, twice. The research on what killed this bird (age? food? disease?) is still continuing.


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