Photo: Phil Brown/Flickr Creative Commons

Purple Sandpiper

Calidris maritima

Seemingly adapted to tough conditions is this stout, short-legged sandpiper. It winters farther north on the Atlantic Coast than any other shorebird, and its chosen habitat is on coastal rocks pounded by the surf. When an especially large wave hits the rocks, the lowest birds in a flock may simply hop or flutter up far enough to evade the incoming water. Few birders ever see this species on its remote breeding grounds in the Canadian high arctic.
Conservation status Numbers apparently stable or perhaps increasing. Breeding range is mostly remote from human impacts. Building of rock jetties along Atlantic Coast may have increased available wintering habitat.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Wave-washed rocks, jetties. In winter almost always on rocky shores or rock jetties and breakwaters, foraging in zone below high-tide mark. Sometimes in areas of seaweed washed up on beaches. In summer on barren northern tundra, especially in rocky areas or ridges.
Seemingly adapted to tough conditions is this stout, short-legged sandpiper. It winters farther north on the Atlantic Coast than any other shorebird, and its chosen habitat is on coastal rocks pounded by the surf. When an especially large wave hits the rocks, the lowest birds in a flock may simply hop or flutter up far enough to evade the incoming water. Few birders ever see this species on its remote breeding grounds in the Canadian high arctic.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Clambers over rocks, seaweed, beaches, or tundra, looking for prey. Occasionally probes in mud, but usually finds food visually.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Olive to buff, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both sexes (but male often does more), 21-22 days. Young: May leave nest within a few hours after hatching. Young are cared for mostly or entirely by male; from the beginning, young find their own food. Age at first flight not well known, probably about 3 weeks.


Young

May leave nest within a few hours after hatching. Young are cared for mostly or entirely by male; from the beginning, young find their own food. Age at first flight not well known, probably about 3 weeks.

Diet

Mostly insects and mollusks. On breeding grounds eats mostly insects, also some crustaceans, spiders, worms. Unlike most sandpipers, also eats some plant material, including berries, buds, seeds, leaves, and moss. On migration and winter, diet is mostly small mollusks, including mussels and snails, also some crustaceans and insects.


Nesting

In territorial display, male flies in wide circles with wings fluttered above horizontal. Displays to intruders on ground by raising one wing high above back. Male may pursue female on ground or in the air. Nest site is on ground on open tundra, either in high rocky area or lower wet site, often among lichen or moss. Nest is shallow depression, with or without lining of grass, leaves. Male makes up to 5 nest scrapes, female chooses one.

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

Migration

Apparently follows coast in migration, seldom appearing inland. Fall migration much later than that of most sandpipers, not appearing on wintering grounds in numbers until November.

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Migration

Apparently follows coast in migration, seldom appearing inland. Fall migration much later than that of most sandpipers, not appearing on wintering grounds in numbers until November.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A single or double twit or twit-twit.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Purple Sandpiper

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Purple 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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