The influence of snow conditions on the date of breeding of wading birds in north-east Greenland



The young of wading birds that breed in some parts of the arctic hatch when their insect food supply is most abundant. This appears to be the ultimate factor determining the date of egg-laying. In various other arctic birds the date of breeding may be influenced, directly or indirectly, by the time at which snow or ice melts. The Joint Biological Expedition to N.E. Greenland 1974 studied Ringed plovers Charadrius hiaticula, Dunlins Calidris aplina, Sanderlings Calidris alba, Knots Calidris canutus, and Turnstones Arenaria interpres breeding in various areas within 80 km of each other.

In 1974 the thaw was two or three weeks later than normal in the region. The time at which snow cleared and the dates of breeding of the waders differed considerably between valleys: breeding was delayed in valleys that cleared late. In all areas egg-laying ceased early in July, probably because chicks hatching from eggs laid later would not be ready to migrate by the end of the summer. Hence the mean date and length of the egg-laying period were determined by the date of snow clearance from the breeding areas.

Studies of the potential food resources indicate that the waders in N.E. Greenland do not appear to time their breeding so that the young hatch at some peak of food abundance. Sufficient food resources are probably available over a long period of time.