Heaven isn’t quite what it’s made out to be, the Green Sandpiper (065)

Literally translated, the common Dutch name for the Green Sandpiper is “Little White Butt”. Seriously! It is a nervous wader which often goes undetected because of its colouring which acts as camouflage. Why did it become so nervous?  How did it get its small white butt? To find out more about this bird read on…

The angels in heaven have a soft spot for peace loving creatures. This includes animals, not just humans… Now one small jumpy wader was continuously being teased by the rough-tongued jay and magpie. “Get me a fish and make it snappy!”  croaked the magpie, for instance. And the jay was always screaching that he wanted a delicious little spider. Whatever he did, the little wader was never fast enough and then he was laughed at, pecked and pushed under water. He underwent the taunting in quiet resignation. But that triggered his tormenters to treat him even more savagely. They gradually turned this small wader’s life into a total misery. 

In heaven the angels saw how the frightened brown bird was hit, kicked and humiliated. So they decided to release him from his suffering: to allow him to swap this hell on earth for heavenly paradise. A few angels flew down to earth to take him back with them to heaven.
“In there you will be happy and safe for ever,” said the angels, pointing to a large oak door. “Just knock on the door and Peter will let you in. He’s expecting you.” And off they flew.
So he sat there all on his own in front of an immense door which – so it seemed to him – towered up many metres up before his eyes. He felt even smaller and more insignificant than ever before. No, the entrance to what was meant to be this heavenly paradise looked anything but inviting. Finally, he gathered his courage and flew up to this small window behind a golden trellis and tapped timidly on the door. Almost immediately the small window opened and some rays of heavenly light shone on him. “I…I am the…the small wading bird. The angels brought me here,” said the bird, stuttering in his anxiety. But almost at that same moment that these heavenly rays of light shone on him, some sounds also floated through the same small window. His heart skipped a beat or two, because among all the sounds he clearly heard the hoarse shrieking of a magpie and the fearful screeching of a jay.
“Wait just one moment, please, and I’ll open the door,” said the voice. But those all too familiar sounds had paralysed the little bird with fear. This heavenly paradise is an illusion, they’re making fun of me. As these thoughts flashed through his mind, he turned round ready to flee. Just then heaven’s door opened a fraction and a stripe of heaven’s white light lit up his breast and rump. If this special light ever touches you, then it remains visible for ever. That is how this brown bird came to have not only white spots on his feathers but also pale white underparts. And, of course, his white butt!

On his way back to earth he thought to himself: Those angels can tell me more! How can heaven be a paradise if magpies and jays are there too? Who knows what other kinds of tormenters might be waiting for me there as well. I’m moving on, as far away as possible from all those who’ve made my life a misery. I’m going to make my own paradise on earth!

And he has found his paradise on the quiet banks of waterways and rivers. Mainly on his own, so that he doesn’t have to take the needs of others into account. But the fear from the past is deeply engrained in him. To this day he still bobs his head and tail up and down, always alert to any possible danger.

From the water you may now and then come across a green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) running around on the muddy banks of small quiet rivers and ditches. Particularly striking is how his tail regularly bobs up and down. It is a shy solitary small wader that will suddenly call out loudly and fly zigzagging into the air when you pass by quietly in your boat. A striking feature is its white rump and tail and its dark wings. On both the top and underside the colouring is the same. Its wing span is approximately 40 cm. As far as we know it can get to be 12 years old in the wild. Using their medium length beak they mainly eat small animals living in the mud. It often hatches its eggs in abandonned nests in trees in marshy areas of Northern Europe and Russia. Several thousand Green Sandpipers touch down In The Netherlands and Belgium from July to September during their migration. Only a few hundred spend the winter here, while the majority fly on to mid and southern Africa. Worldwide there are an estimated one to three million Green Sandpipers and their numbers appear to be quite stable.


© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl

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Els Baars