Bird GuideSandpipersCurlew Sandpiper

At a Glance

A few Curlew Sandpipers turn up on the Atlantic Coast every year, rewarding birders who scan through the shorebird flocks. Elsewhere in North America, this Eurasian wader is only a rare visitor. It has nested at Point Barrow, Alaska, but in most years it is completely absent there. Most of those seen as migrants are adults in bright rusty-red breeding plumage; young birds and adults in winter plumage are more likely to be overlooked.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Florida, Mid Atlantic, New England, Southeast
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

A very long-distance migrant, nesting in high arctic Siberia and wintering to southern coasts of Africa, Australia.


8 1/2" (22 cm). Shaped somewhat like a Dunlin but with longer legs and more smoothly curved bill. Spring adults mostly rich reddish brown. Darker, more slender than Red Knot. Juveniles and winter adults gray above, whitish below.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Orange, White
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A soft dry chirrip.


Tidal flats, beaches; wet tundra in summer. In migration, found in places where other small sandpipers congregate, including mudflats and beaches along coast, muddy edges of ponds and lakes. Nesting habitat in Alaska is along low ridges and slight rises in wet, grassy tundra.



Usually 4. Creamy to pale olive, blotched with brown and reddish-brown. Incubation is apparently by female only, roughly 21 days.


Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in shallow water, probing in mud with bill, sometimes picking items from surface. When feeding with Dunlins, Curlew Sandpiper often wades in slight deeper water, and tends to eat larger items.


Insects, crustaceans, mollusks, worms. Diet in New World not well known. In Old world, eats wide variety of insects (especially flies and beetles), mainly in breeding season; also crustaceans (including amphipods and shrimp), small mollusks, marine worms, a few seeds.


Male proclaims territory by calling from raised mound, performing low flight display. Courtship displays are more complex than those of most small sandpipers. Male often pursues female in air; both birds perform ritualized nest-making movements; male runs around female in zigzag pattern, with wings raised, tail spread, white rump patch displayed prominently. After elaborate courtship, male apparently departs, leaving female to care for eggs and young. Nest site is on ground on hummock or low mound on tundra. Nest is shallow depression, lined with bits of moss, lichens, leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Population trends not well known. May have better nesting success in years with high lemming populations, when predators concentrate on lemmings and leave the sandpipers alone.

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