Migrant waders using freshwater habitats are hypothesized to have slower primary moult than waders using coastal habitats. We chose the Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola as a representative species using the freshwater habitats and compare its moult pattern with a range of fresh-water and coastal wader species to test the habitat hypothesis. Only fragmentary descriptions of Wood Sandpipers' primary moult in their sub-Saharan non-breeding quarters had existed. We analysed the primary moult formulae of 1496 adult Wood Sandpipers obtained in southern Africa. The Underhill & Zucchini moult model was used to estimate the timing and duration of moult for all 10 primaries combined and for each primary individually. We also estimated the rate of production of feather material during moult. Adult Wood Sandpipers arrive in southern Africa between late July and November, and depart from mid-March to April. Suspension of moult was observed in 56 birds (7.5%) after two to nine primaries had been replaced. The remaining birds performed a continuous complete primary moult, with average start and completion dates of 21 August and 30 December, respectively; estimated duration was 131 days. The overall rate of production of primary feather material was uniform, achieved by growing up to five small inner primaries simultaneously at the beginning of the moult but only one or two simultaneously while the large outer primaries were growing. Primary moult of adult Wood Sandpipers took longer but ended earlier than in similar-sized waders using coastal habitats. Compared with waders using coastal habitats, Wood Sandpipers prolonged moult by shedding their primaries at longer intervals and by extending the growth period of each primary. The longer primary moult and its earlier ending compared with coastal waders are probably adaptations to Wood Sandpipers' use of freshwater habitats, which in southern Africa provide unpredictable food supplies and might require nomadic movements between ephemeral inland wetlands.
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Vol. 97 • No. 3