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.
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.
Learn more about these drawings.

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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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

Semipalmated Sandpiper

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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