Photo: Garth McElroy/Vireo

Stilt Sandpiper

Calidris himantopus

This wader is related to our very smallest sandpipers, but it is much more stretched-out in shape, designed for feeding in deeper water. In its drab winter plumage the Stilt Sandpiper is often overlooked, passed off as either a yellowlegs or a dowitcher, depending on what it is doing. Standing or walking, it looks rather like a yellowlegs; feeding, it acts like a dowitcher, probing the mud with a sewing-machine motion.
Conservation status Counts of migrants in some areas suggest that the species may have increased in recent decades.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Shallow pools, mudflats, marshes; tundra in summer. Typically on fresh water, including ponds and marshes with extensive shallows. Even in coastal areas, tends to occur on lagoons or ponds, not on tidal flats. Breeds on tundra, especially in sedge meadows with raised ridges for nest sites.
This wader is related to our very smallest sandpipers, but it is much more stretched-out in shape, designed for feeding in deeper water. In its drab winter plumage the Stilt Sandpiper is often overlooked, passed off as either a yellowlegs or a dowitcher, depending on what it is doing. Standing or walking, it looks rather like a yellowlegs; feeding, it acts like a dowitcher, probing the mud with a sewing-machine motion.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by wading in shallow water and probing vertically with its bill in the mud of the bottom, often thrusting its head underwater. Sometimes picks insects from surface of water. Feeding is similar to that of dowitchers, and it often associates closely with dowitcher flocks.


Eggs

4. Pale cream to olive-green, heavily dotted with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 19-21 days. Female incubates at night, male during the day. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, find all their own food. Both parents may tend young at first, but female usually departs in less than a week, male after about 2 weeks. Young can fly at about 17-18 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, find all their own food. Both parents may tend young at first, but female usually departs in less than a week, male after about 2 weeks. Young can fly at about 17-18 days.

Diet

Includes insects, mollusks, seeds. Diet not well known, but includes a wide variety of aquatic insects (including fly larvae and beetles), marine worms, snails; also the seeds, leaves, and roots of aquatic plants.


Nesting

Male displays over breeding territory by flying slowly with shallow wingbeats, calling incessantly, then gliding with wings in shallow "V" while giving guttural song. In courtship, spectacular aerial displays; male pursues female in the air, gets in front of her and then raises wings high over his back, singing as he plummets. Nest site is in a dry spot on low ridge or on top of sedge hummock, often surrounded by water or wet ground. Nest is shallow depression in vegetation, with little or no lining; male makes nest scrapes, female chooses one.

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

Migration

Migrates mostly through Great Plains; uncommon on east coast, rare on west coast, mostly in fall. A few winter as far north as United States (Florida, Texas, Salton Sea), but most apparently go to South America. In fall, adults migrate south about a month before juveniles on average.

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Migration

Migrates mostly through Great Plains; uncommon on east coast, rare on west coast, mostly in fall. A few winter as far north as United States (Florida, Texas, Salton Sea), but most apparently go to South America. In fall, adults migrate south about a month before juveniles on average.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Simple tu-tu, similar to call of Lesser Yellowlegs.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Stilt 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 Stilt 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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