At a Glance
Most sandpipers nest only in the far north, but the little 'Spotty' is common in summer over much of North America. As it walks on the shores of streams, ponds, and marshes, it bobs the rear half of its body up and down in an odd teetering motion. When startled, it skims away low over the water, with rapid bursts of shallow wingbeats and short, stiff-winged glides. Even where it is common, it is seldom seen in flocks.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Coasts and Shorelines, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, 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
Some are only short-distance migrants, wintering in southern United States and along our Pacific Coast; others go as far as southern South America.
7 1/2" (19 cm). In breeding plumage, the only sandpiper with round black spots below. Plainer in fall and winter; note white wedge up onto shoulder. Thin, straight bill, paler at base. Bobbing behavior and stiff flight are good clues.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Orange, White
Pointed, Short, Tapered
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
A clear peet-weet; also a soft trill.
Pebbly lake shores, ponds, streamsides; in winter, also seashores. Breeds near the edge of fresh water in a wide variety of settings, including lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, in either open or wooded country. In migration and winter also found along coast on mudflats, beaches, breakwaters; also on such inland habitats as sewage ponds, irrigation ditches.
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4, sometimes 3, rarely 5. Buff, blotched with brown. Incubation is usually by male only, 20-24 days; female may help incubate final clutch of the season. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young feed themselves, are usually tended by male only. Age at first flight about 17-21 days.
Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young feed themselves, are usually tended by male only. Age at first flight about 17-21 days.
Forages in a variety of ways. Picks up items from surface of ground or water; snatches flying insects out of the air; plucks small items from shallow water. On open flats, may crouch low, stalk slowly, then dash forward to catch insects or small crabs.
Insects, crustaceans, other invertebrates. Feeds on wide variety of insects, also earthworms, crabs, crayfish, small mollusks, small fish, sometimes bits of carrion.
Has a complicated mating system. Females are slightly larger and much more aggressive, actively defending breeding territory with displays in flight and on ground. At least in some parts of range, one female may mate with up to five males during a season; each time, female lays a clutch of eggs, leaving male to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Nest site is near water or some distance away, on ground under shrubs or weeds, next to fallen log, etc. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow depression lined with grass, moss, sometimes feathers.
Numbers are thought to have declined in many parts of range during recent decades, probably owing to loss of habitat. However, still widespread and common.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Spotted Sandpiper. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Spotted 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.