Photo: Claude Nadeau/Vireo

Priority Bird

Sanderling

Calidris alba

This is the little sandpiper that runs up and down the beach "like a clockwork toy," chasing the receding waves. Plumper and more active than most small sandpipers, and quite pale at most times of year, a good match for dry sand. Sanderlings nest only in limited areas of the far north, but during migration and winter they are familiar sights on coastal beaches all over the world.
Conservation status May be seriously declining; some surveys show an 80% drop in numbers in the Americas since early 1970s. Relies heavily on a few staging areas in migration, and vulnerable to destruction of those sites.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Outer beaches, tideflats, lake shores; when nesting, stony tundra. At most seasons found on sandy beaches washed by waves. Sometimes on rocky shorelines, less often on mudflats. Typically coastal, but a few stop over on lake shores inland. In breeding season, mostly far above Arctic Circle on rather dry, rocky tundra with growth of moss, lichens, low plants, generally close to lakes or ponds.
This is the little sandpiper that runs up and down the beach "like a clockwork toy," chasing the receding waves. Plumper and more active than most small sandpipers, and quite pale at most times of year, a good match for dry sand. Sanderlings nest only in limited areas of the far north, but during migration and winter they are familiar sights on coastal beaches all over the world.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, worn breeding plumage
  • juvenile
  • adult, molting to breeding plumage
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, molting to breeding plumage
  • adult, molting to nonbreeding plumage
  • adults, breeding and molt plumages
  • adults, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Chases the waves mostly to find sand crabs, which lie buried in intertidal zone and are easiest to spot just after a wave retreats. Sanderlings also probe in sand and mud for other creatures, and move rapidly while picking items from surface.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Olive-green to pale brown, sparsely spotted with brown and black. Incubation is by both sexes, 24-31 days. Sometimes female lays 2 clutches in separate nests and male incubates one set, female the other. At other times, female may have two mates, leaving each male to care for a set of eggs and young, while female departs. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching, are tended by one or both parents. If both parents are present at first, female may leave within a few days. Young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 17 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching, are tended by one or both parents. If both parents are present at first, female may leave within a few days. Young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 17 days.

Diet

Mostly sand crabs and other invertebrates. Feeds on a wide variety of small creatures on beach, including sand crabs, amphipods, isopods, insects, marine worms, small mollusks; also may eat some carrion. Wintering birds on southern coasts may eat corn chips and other junk food left by people. In spring, may feed heavily on eggs of horseshoe crab. On tundra, feeds mostly on flies and other insects, also some seeds, algae, and leaves.


Nesting

In breeding season, unmated male performs low display flight, alternately fluttering and gliding, while giving harsh chirring song. On ground, male runs up to female with feathers ruffled, head hunched down on shoulders. Nest site is on ground, usually in open and rather barren spot which may be higher than surroundings. Nest is shallow scrape, often lined with small leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Much of migration is accomplished in long nonstop flights between key stopover points. Studies show that many individuals return year after year to same wintering sites. One-year-old birds may remain through summer on the southern wintering grounds.

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Migration

Much of migration is accomplished in long nonstop flights between key stopover points. Studies show that many individuals return year after year to same wintering sites. One-year-old birds may remain through summer on the southern wintering grounds.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A sharp kip. Conversational chatter while feeding.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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