Photo: Martin Meyers/Vireo

Rock Sandpiper

Calidris ptilocnemis

Very similar to the Purple Sandpiper, replacing it in the west. Spends the winter on coastal rocks, sharing this habitat with other "rockpipers" like Black Turnstone and Surfbird. Rock Sandpiper is more effectively camouflaged than these birds, and is often very hard to spot against the gray boulders. Although it nests in places on the mainland of Alaska, it seems most numerous on Bering Sea islands such as the Pribilofs and the Aleutians.
Conservation status Numbers wintering in the Pacific Northwest have declined since the 1970s.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Rocky shores; nests on mossy tundra. In winter typically on rocky shores or rock jetties, foraging mostly in zone below high-tide mark, especially on mats of algae or among mussels or barnacles. Breeds on tundra, generally on drier and more barren stretches with sparse cover of lichen, moss, grasses.
Very similar to the Purple Sandpiper, replacing it in the west. Spends the winter on coastal rocks, sharing this habitat with other "rockpipers" like Black Turnstone and Surfbird. Rock Sandpiper is more effectively camouflaged than these birds, and is often very hard to spot against the gray boulders. Although it nests in places on the mainland of Alaska, it seems most numerous on Bering Sea islands such as the Pribilofs and the Aleutians.
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Feeding Behavior

forages by moving about slowly on rocks, or walking on mudflats or tundra. Finds its food visually.


Eggs

usually 4. Olive to buff, blotched with brown. Incubation is usually by both sexes, about 20 days. Occasionally only one parent (either one) incubates. If predators threaten nest, adult may perform distraction display, fluttering away as if wing is broken. Young: may leave the nest within a few hours after hatching. Usually tended by male, rarely by female or by both parents. Young find all their own food. Age at first flight not well known, probably about 3 weeks.


Young

may leave the nest within a few hours after hatching. Usually tended by male, rarely by female or by both parents. Young find all their own food. Age at first flight not well known, probably about 3 weeks.

Diet

mostly insects and other invertebrates. Insects may be main part of diet on breeding grounds, but also eats crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms. Unlike most sandpipers, also eats some plant material, including berries, seeds, moss, and algae. On migration and winter, diet is mostly small mollusks, crustaceans, and insects.


Nesting

Male defends territory by flying in wide circle with fluttering wingbeats, giving trilled calls. In aggressive display on ground, male raises one wing. Nest site is on ground on open dry tundra, often on a raised area of lichen or moss. Nest is a deep scrape, usually lined with lichen, leaves, grass. Male begins scrape, female may add some lining.

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

Migration

Those nesting on Pribilofs and Aleutians are apparently short-distance migrants or permanent residents. Mainland breeders go farther south. Some of those wintering on our west coast south of Alaska probably come from Siberia.

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Migration

Those nesting on Pribilofs and Aleutians are apparently short-distance migrants or permanent residents. Mainland breeders go farther south. Some of those wintering on our west coast south of Alaska probably come from Siberia.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; low whistled notes sometimes heard in winter.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Rock 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 Rock 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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