Rock Sandpipers Winter on Alaska's Shores

Thanks to the Christmas Bird Count we know that these birds like Homer Spit.

This story comes to you through a partnership between Audubon and BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.


Written by Dennis Paulson

Although the town of Homer is in southern Alaska, no one would ever think of it as southern on this midwinter day. The temperature is well below freezing, and flurries of snow dance in the blustery wind. This is a place for rugged birders and the even tougher birds they seek.  

So let’s put on heavy parkas and head onto Homer Spit, on the longest road into ocean waters anywhere in the world. We’ll watch in particular for Rock Sandpipers feeding along the gravelly shore. These small gray shorebirds run or walk this way and that, probing into the gravel and seaweed. Anything that moves is fair game, especially amphipods, the little crustaceans that hop about when exposed. But the birds also recognize clams, snails, and barnacles as tasty food.

Gulls, waterfowl, and many other birds forage along the spit, but rock sandpipers are the only shorebirds. Their dense feather coat extends down their legs almost to the ankle, affording some protection from the cold. 

How do we know exactly which birds winter on Homer Spit? Well, one way is through the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon. These counts go on all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert to join one – just bring your binoculars and your curiosity. To find one near you, begin at  

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Rock Sandpiper [63777] recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Glaucous-winged Gull [3350] by A.A. Allen. Waves recorded by Kessler Productions
Producer: John Kessler; Executive Producer: Chris Peterson; © 2012 Tune In to     December 2012   Narrator: Mary McCann

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”