Bird GuideSandpipersRock Sandpiper

At a Glance

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.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Hovering, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


8-9" (20-23 cm). In winter almost identical to Purple Sandpiper, identified by range. Summer adults might suggest Dunlin but larger, with dark gray patch on lower breast (not black patch on belly). Rock Sandpipers nesting on Pribilof Islands are larger and paler than those elsewhere in Alaska.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Pointed, Short, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Usually silent; low whistled notes sometimes heard in winter.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill


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.



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.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers wintering in the Pacific Northwest have declined since the 1970s.

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 Rock Sandpiper. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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.