Little stints are very rare vagrants to New Zealand, with three accepted records, all from Lake Ellesmere. Each bird was associated with a flock of red-necked stints, which enabled comparisons with that species to be made. This was essential for the records to be accepted, as the two species are very similar, and are regarded as one of the most difficult small sandpiper species pairs to separate.
The little stint is a tiny wader, and is very similar to the red-necked stint. The following pointers may assist identification (see references for authorities on shorebird identification). Little stints are fractionally smaller and slimmer than red-necked stints, with a slightly longer and finer bill. They are most easily separated in breeding plumage later in the southern summer. Little stints retain rufous in non-breeding plumage, which red-necked stint does not (at least in Australasia), and in comparison with red-necked are noticeably brighter in tone (but note that juvenile red-necked stints may be brighter or more ‘contrasty’ than adults). Consistent features include a prominent mantle ‘V’ shape, which is pale straw-coloured to yellow, an overall orange-rufous coloration of the upperparts which contrasts with the brick-red of red-necked stint, and a cream to white throat in all plumages, as opposed to brick-red in breeding plumage of red-necked. Little stints often show a ‘split’ supercilium.
Similar species: red-necked stint, western sandpiper, semipalmated sandpiper and Baird’s sandpiper, are all small sandpipers with dark rumps and black legs. The differences between these species are subtle, and require careful checking of identification features, and (ideally) comparison between species (most vagrant small sandpipers in New Zealand associate with red-necked stints). Distinguishing characters include overall size (Baird’s sandpiper is largest, little stint smallest), bill size and shape (western sandpiper has the longest bill, drooping at the tip; semipalmated sandpiper’s bill is the thickest at the tip), the distribution and tone of any rufous plumage, and the presence of any dark streaking on the underparts.
Distribution and habitat
The little stint is a widespread breeder in the Eurasian Arctic (overlapping in part with red-necked stint), and migrates to non-breeding grounds in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East and much of Africa. It is a regular vagrant to Australia. The only accepted New Zealand records to date have been from Lake Ellesmere, though careful observation is quite likely to reveal the species as occurring infrequently at other locations.
The little stint is an abundant species globally, with an estimated population of 1.4 to 1.5 million birds.
New Zealand records
There are three accepted records of little stint in New Zealand, all from Lake Ellesmere: November 1992 - April 1993, January-April 1995, and March 2010. There are unconfirmed reports of birds from other (North Island) locations.
Behaviour and ecology
All records of little stint in New Zealand have been at Lake Ellesmere. The lake holds the largest New Zealand population of red-necked stints, with which the little stints were closely associated. The habitat is extensive salt marsh and mudflats, which are covered and uncovered as lake levels vary. Elsewhere the birds may be associated with either freshwater habitats or estuarine mudflats. The birds’ feeding and other behaviours were much as for red-necked stints, and particularly when roosting (often with wrybills or banded dotterels) they may be quite confiding. Calls are very similar to red-necked stint, and may be indistinguishable.
Threats and conservation
The little stint is ranked as Least Concern by IUCN, but is locally threatened by habitat degradation (mainly wetland and saltmarsh reclamation), illegal hunting, climate perturbation affecting salt regimes in saline wetlands, and outbreaks of avian malaria and avian botulism.
Little stints breed across a broad range in the high Arctic from northern Scandinavia east to the Lena River delta in Siberia. They prefer drier tundra at mainly low elevations, and are reported to be serially polygamous, with males and females incubating separate clutches of 3-4 eggs.
Little stints consume small invertebrates obtained by rapid pecking action on muddy surfaces
Crocker , T.C.; Harrison, K.; O’Donnell, C.F.J.; Petch, S. 2002. First and second sightings of a little stint (Calidris minuta) in New Zealand. Notornis 49: 182-184
Hayman, P.; Marchant, J.; Prater, T. 1986. Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Croom Helm, London.
Medway, D.G. 2010. Charadriiformes (waders). Pp. 191-223. In: Checklist Committee (OSNZ) 2010. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica (4th edn). Ornithological Society of New Zealand & Te Papa Press, Wellington.
Miskelly, C.M.; Scofield P.R.; Sagar P.M.; Tennyson A.J.D.; Bell B.D.; Bell E.A. 2011. Vagrant and extra-limital bird records accepted by the OSNZ Records Appraisal Committee 2008-2010. Notornis 58: 64-70.
O’Brien, M.; Crossley, R.; Karlson, K., 2006. The shorebird guide. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Paulson, D. 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. UBC Press, Vancouver.
Crocker, T.C. 2013. Little stint. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates