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 could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

Rock Sandpiper

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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