Photo: Johann Schumacher/Vireo

Pectoral Sandpiper

Calidris melanotos

This is one of the "grasspipers," more likely to be seen in grassy marshes or wet fields than on wide-open mudflats. Its spring migration is mostly through the Great Plains, with smaller numbers east to the Atlantic; the species is found coast to coast in fall, but is still scarcer in the west. The name "Pectoral" refers to the inflatable air sac on the male's chest, puffed out during his bizarre hooting flight display over the Arctic tundra.
Conservation status Numbers may have been reduced by market hunting in the late 1800s, but current numbers are probably stable.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat In migration, prairie pools, muddy shores, fresh and tidal marshes; in summer, tundra. Migrants favor grassy places rather than open mudflats. Often seen along grassy edges of shores, at edges of tidal marsh, in flooded fields or wet meadows. Sometimes on dry prairie or even plowed fields. On breeding grounds, favors wet grassy areas of tundra.
This is one of the "grasspipers," more likely to be seen in grassy marshes or wet fields than on wide-open mudflats. Its spring migration is mostly through the Great Plains, with smaller numbers east to the Atlantic; the species is found coast to coast in fall, but is still scarcer in the west. The name "Pectoral" refers to the inflatable air sac on the male's chest, puffed out during his bizarre hooting flight display over the Arctic tundra.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by picking up items from surface of ground, also by probing in mud or shallow water.


Eggs

4. Whitish to olive-buff, blotched with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 21-23 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young, but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 21 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young, but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 21 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. Diet not well known. On breeding grounds, feeds mostly on insects, especially flies and their larvae, also beetles and others. Also eats amphipods, spiders, some seeds. Diet in migration may include small crabs and other crustaceans, plus other aquatic invertebrates, but insects may still be main food.


Nesting

In flight display, male puffs out chest sac so that chest looks like a feathered balloon. As the male flies low over a female on the ground, he gives low-pitched throbbing hooting noise; after passing female he circles, alternating flutters and glides, back to his starting point. On ground, male approaches female with tail raised, wings drooping, chest puffed out. One male may mate with several females, and he takes no part in caring for the eggs or young. Nest site is on ground in grassy tundra, often in dry upland site but sometimes near water, usually well hidden in grass. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression with cup-shaped lining of grass and leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

The winter range is mostly in South America, but some (probably from nesting grounds in Siberia) migrate to Australia and New Zealand. Compared to other shorebirds, migration is relatively early in spring and late in fall. Adults migrate south at least a month before juveniles, on average, with adults peaking in late August, young birds in late September.

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Migration

The winter range is mostly in South America, but some (probably from nesting grounds in Siberia) migrate to Australia and New Zealand. Compared to other shorebirds, migration is relatively early in spring and late in fall. Adults migrate south at least a month before juveniles, on average, with adults peaking in late August, young birds in late September.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A dull krrrrp.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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