Bird GuideSandpipersPectoral Sandpiper

At a Glance

This is one of the 'grasspipers,' more likely to be seen in grassy marshes or wet fields than on wide-open mudflats. Its spring migration is mostly through the Great Plains, with smaller numbers east to the Atlantic; the species is found coast to coast in fall, but is still scarcer in the west. The name 'Pectoral' refers to the inflatable air sac on the male's chest, puffed out during his bizarre hooting flight display over the Arctic tundra.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Erratic, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

The winter range is mostly in South America, but some (probably from nesting grounds in Siberia) migrate to Australia and New Zealand. Compared to other shorebirds, migration is relatively early in spring and late in fall. Adults migrate south at least a month before juveniles, on average, with adults peaking in late August, young birds in late September.


9" (23 cm). Might suggest Least Sandpiper, mostly brown with yellowish legs, but much larger, with more stretched-out shape. Sharp contrast separates brown streaked breast from white belly. Heavily striped on back. Males larger than females.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Pointed, Rounded, Short, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A dull krrrrp.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Buzz, Croak/Quack, Rattle, Scream, Trill


In migration, prairie pools, muddy shores, fresh and tidal marshes; in summer, tundra. Migrants favor grassy places rather than open mudflats. Often seen along grassy edges of shores, at edges of tidal marsh, in flooded fields or wet meadows. Sometimes on dry prairie or even plowed fields. On breeding grounds, favors wet grassy areas of tundra.



4. Whitish to olive-buff, blotched with dark brown. Incubation is by female only, 21-23 days.


Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Female tends young, but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 21 days.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by picking up items from surface of ground, also by probing in mud or shallow water.


Mostly insects. Diet not well known. On breeding grounds, feeds mostly on insects, especially flies and their larvae, also beetles and others. Also eats amphipods, spiders, some seeds. Diet in migration may include small crabs and other crustaceans, plus other aquatic invertebrates, but insects may still be main food.


In flight display, male puffs out chest sac so that chest looks like a feathered balloon. As the male flies low over a female on the ground, he gives low-pitched throbbing hooting noise; after passing female he circles, alternating flutters and glides, back to his starting point. On ground, male approaches female with tail raised, wings drooping, chest puffed out. One male may mate with several females, and he takes no part in caring for the eggs or young. Nest site is on ground in grassy tundra, often in dry upland site but sometimes near water, usually well hidden in grass. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression with cup-shaped lining of grass and leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers may have been reduced by market hunting in the late 1800s, but current numbers are probably stable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Pectoral Sandpiper. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Pectoral Sandpiper

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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