At a Glance

This is the little sandpiper that runs up and down the beach 'like a clockwork toy,' chasing the receding waves. Plumper and more active than most small sandpipers, and quite pale at most times of year, a good match for dry sand. Sanderlings nest only in limited areas of the far north, but during migration and winter they are familiar sights on coastal beaches all over the world.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, 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, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Much of migration is accomplished in long nonstop flights between key stopover points. Studies show that many individuals return year after year to same wintering sites. One-year-old birds may remain through summer on the southern wintering grounds.


8" (20 cm). Very pale and plain in "winter" plumage (worn for most of year), with straight, stout, black bill, blackish legs. Black smudge at shoulder may be obvious or hidden. In flight, shows bold white wing stripe. Has larger bill, plainer face than small pale plovers. Also see winter Western Sandpiper. In breeding plumage (worn only briefly, late spring to late summer), rich reddish brown on head and foreparts. Very rare Red-necked Stint is smaller, with thinner bill.
About the size of a Sparrow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A sharp kip. Conversational chatter while feeding.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chatter, Chirp/Chip


Outer beaches, tideflats, lake shores; when nesting, stony tundra. At most seasons found on sandy beaches washed by waves. Sometimes on rocky shorelines, less often on mudflats. Typically coastal, but a few stop over on lake shores inland. In breeding season, mostly far above Arctic Circle on rather dry, rocky tundra with growth of moss, lichens, low plants, generally close to lakes or ponds.



4, sometimes 3. Olive-green to pale brown, sparsely spotted with brown and black. Incubation is by both sexes, 24-31 days. Sometimes female lays 2 clutches in separate nests and male incubates one set, female the other. At other times, female may have two mates, leaving each male to care for a set of eggs and young, while female departs.


Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching, are tended by one or both parents. If both parents are present at first, female may leave within a few days. Young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 17 days.

Feeding Behavior

Chases the waves mostly to find sand crabs, which lie buried in intertidal zone and are easiest to spot just after a wave retreats. Sanderlings also probe in sand and mud for other creatures, and move rapidly while picking items from surface.


Mostly sand crabs and other invertebrates. Feeds on a wide variety of small creatures on beach, including sand crabs, amphipods, isopods, insects, marine worms, small mollusks; also may eat some carrion. Wintering birds on southern coasts may eat corn chips and other junk food left by people. In spring, may feed heavily on eggs of horseshoe crab. On tundra, feeds mostly on flies and other insects, also some seeds, algae, and leaves.


In breeding season, unmated male performs low display flight, alternately fluttering and gliding, while giving harsh chirring song. On ground, male runs up to female with feathers ruffled, head hunched down on shoulders. Nest site is on ground, usually in open and rather barren spot which may be higher than surroundings. Nest is shallow scrape, often lined with small leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

May be seriously declining; some surveys show an 80% drop in numbers in the Americas since early 1970s. Relies heavily on a few staging areas in migration, and vulnerable to destruction of those sites.

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

Climate Threats Facing the Sanderling

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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