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The Pungent Mudflat

It may not smell good, but it's full of life, even as it decays!

On the shore of a saltwater bay, the tide goes out, revealing a broad expanse of dark, glistening mudflat. Mudflats are rich in nutrients, such as decomposing organic matter and minerals. Far from wastelands, mudflats also support a bounty of life including vast quantities of tiny snails and clams, worms, crustaceans, larvae, and much more. Millions of shorebirds - including these Lesser (right) and Greater (left) Yellowlegs - follow shorelines and their mudflats each spring and fall, where they feast upon those tiny creatures hidden beneath the mud's surface, a banquet that powers the birds' continent-spanning migrations.

Full Transcript



The Pungent Mudflat

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Glaucous-winged Gulls crying, waves and other shoreline sounds]

Today we’re walking along the shore of a saltwater bay. The tide’s going out, leaving behind a broad, dark mudflat.

For some, this muddy plain might appear a waste of natural space, an ephemeral landscape awaiting the rising tide⁠ — and smelling to high heaven in the meantime!

But that fragrance offers an important clue. Mudflats are anything but empty. In fact, they’re rich in nutrients, such as decomposing organic matter and minerals that support an abundance of life. Like these Dunlin, a type of sandpiper.  

[Large flock of Dunlin]

Much of this life lies below the surface. Scoop up a pail of mud and look closely. You’ll see a universe of tiny snails, worms, crustaceans, and a whole lot more.

That’s good news for hungry shorebirds that are getting ready to migrate. Each spring and fall, millions of shorebirds gather to feast on those tiny creatures, as they prepare for long journeys ahead.

So the next time you wrinkle your nose at low tide, imagine the countless creatures that draw their life from that fragrant mud.


Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Michael Stein
Sounds of birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Glaucous-winged Gull 137881 recorded by G. Vyn and Dunlin 59435-2 by W.W. H. Gunn. Mudflat ambient with gulls recorded by C. Peterson.
© 2019 Tune In to     September 2017 / 2019

ID# mudflat-01-2012-09-17    mudflat-01b

Sights & Sounds

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