Photo: Richard Crossley/Vireo

Priority Bird

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Calidris pusilla

Small and plain in appearance, this sandpiper is important in terms of sheer numbers. It often gathers by the thousands at stopover points during migration. Semipalmated Sandpipers winter mostly in South America, and studies have shown that they may make a non-stop flight of nearly 2000 miles from New England or eastern Canada to the South American coast. The name "Semipalmated" refers to slight webbing between the toes, visible only at extremely close range.
Conservation status Still abundant, but has declined in recent years. Vulnerable because of heavy dependence on a few key stopover points in migration. Several special reserves have been established to protect this and other migratory shorebirds.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Beaches, mudflats; tundra in summer. During migration along coast found on mudflats in intertidal zone, shallow estuaries and inlets, beaches. Inland, occurs on edges of lakes and marshes next to very shallow water. Nests on low arctic tundra, near water.
Small and plain in appearance, this sandpiper is important in terms of sheer numbers. It often gathers by the thousands at stopover points during migration. Semipalmated Sandpipers winter mostly in South America, and studies have shown that they may make a non-stop flight of nearly 2000 miles from New England or eastern Canada to the South American coast. The name "Semipalmated" refers to slight webbing between the toes, visible only at extremely close range.
Semipalmated Sandpiper around Connecticut

Audubon Connecticut’s priority bird species are birds of significant conservation need, for which our actions, over time, can lead to measurable improvements in status.  Some of these species are listed as vulnerable or near threatened on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Redlist.  Others are species of conservation concern on the National Audubon Society’s Watchlist or identified as priorities by Partners in Flight.  Many priority species are also listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern  in Connecticut and are included in Connecticut’s Wildlife Action Plan. The breadth of this list reflects the dramatic loss of habitat and the pervasive threats that confront birds and other wildlife.

Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adults, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by walking on wet mud, looking for prey; sometimes probes in mud with bill. In coastal areas, does most feeding while tide is falling or at low tide. May forage at night.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Variable in color, whitish to olive-buff, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents, usually 20 days. Young: Downy young leave nest within hours after hatching. Young are tended by both parents at first, but female usually deserts them within a few days. Male remains with young until they are about old enough to fly, but young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at about 2 weeks after hatching, can fly fairly well at 16-19 days, when not quite full-grown.


Young

Downy young leave nest within hours after hatching. Young are tended by both parents at first, but female usually deserts them within a few days. Male remains with young until they are about old enough to fly, but young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at about 2 weeks after hatching, can fly fairly well at 16-19 days, when not quite full-grown.

Diet

Mostly tiny aquatic insects and crustaceans. Diet varies with season and place. In breeding season eats mostly insects, especially flies and their larvae, also some spiders, snails, seeds. During migration, feeds on a wide variety of small crustaceans that live in shallow water or wet mud, also many insects, small mollusks, worms.


Nesting

Male defends territory with display flight, fluttering wings and singing a sputtering trill (sounds like a tiny outboard motor). Females are attracted by song; male and female may chase each other around territory. Nest site is on ground, often at top of low mound or on island, under small shrub. Nest is shallow depression lined with leaves, grass, moss. Male makes potential nest scrapes, female chooses one and adds nest material.

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

Migration

Migrates in flocks. May make very long nonstop flights between major feeding areas on migration. In fall, adults move south about a month before juveniles on average. One-year-old birds mostly stay on wintering grounds through first summer.

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Migration

Migrates in flocks. May make very long nonstop flights between major feeding areas on migration. In fall, adults move south about a month before juveniles on average. One-year-old birds mostly stay on wintering grounds through first summer.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A sharp cheh or churk, not as drawn out as the notes of the Least and Western sandpipers.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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