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Small shorebirds feast on green slime to fuel their long migration

November 2, 2021

Shorebirds wade in shallow waters along shorelines searching for food. More than a million shorebirds visit the San Francisco Estuary each year during their migration to feast on the insects, worms, clams, and crabs that live on or under the surface of the sand or mud. The abundant food in the Estuary provides shorebirds with the energy they need to migrate thousands of kilometers, between their breeding areas in the Arctic and their wintering areas along the Pacific coast of North and South America. Scientists have discovered that, during migration, small species of shorebirds eat a green slime called biofilm that grows on the surface of the mud. Larger shorebirds do not eat biofilm. This article describes how the bills and tongues of small shorebirds help them eat biofilm, what biofilm is, and why biofilm is an important food for those birds during migration.