Photo: Johann Schumacher/Vireo

Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularius

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat 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.
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.
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Feeding Behavior

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.


Eggs

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.


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.

Diet

Insects, crustaceans, other invertebrates. Feeds on wide variety of insects, also earthworms, crabs, crayfish, small mollusks, small fish, sometimes bits of carrion.


Nesting

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.

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

Migration

Some are only short-distance migrants, wintering in southern United States and along our Pacific Coast; others go as far as southern South America.

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Migration

Some are only short-distance migrants, wintering in southern United States and along our Pacific Coast; others go as far as southern South America.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A clear peet-weet; also a soft trill.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Spotted 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 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.

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