Bird GuideSandpipersWandering Tattler

At a Glance

Along rocky shorelines on the west coast, this gray sandpiper clambers actively over the boulders. If an observer approaches too closely, the bird gives a loud 'tattling' call and flies away, spooking the other shorebirds on the rocks. The name 'Wandering' refers to the wide distribution of this species: in winter it is found along Pacific coastlines from North America to Australia, including innumerable islands in the southwest Pacific. In summer, for a change of pace, it goes to high mountains in Alaska and northwestern Canada.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, High Mountains, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Mostly a long-distance migrant. Some winter along our Pacific Coast, but many go as far as Australia, in series of long flights across Pacific. Small numbers also winter along South American west coast.


11" (28 cm). Teetering behavior suggests Spotted Sandpiper, but larger, grayer, with gray chest in winter, barred underparts in summer. In flight, solid gray above, with no white in wings or tail.
About the size of a Robin
Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A series of 3 or 4 clear whistles, given in flight.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Scream, Trill


Rock coasts, pebbly beaches. Nests near mountain streams above timberline. In migration and winter usually on rocky coastline or similar areas, such as rock jetties or breakwaters. Occasionally feeds on nearby mudflats or sand beaches. In breeding season, found along rocky or gravelly streams in northern mountains.



Usually 4. Olive to green, heavily blotched with brown. Incubation is by both parents, about 23-25 days. The incubating adult may sit motionless on the nest even when approached very closely.


Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend the young at first, but after 1-2 weeks usually only one adult is present. Young feed themselves, following parents along edge of stream; young can swim well even when small. Age at first flight not well known.

Feeding Behavior

Forages more actively than other shorebirds of rocky coasts, moving about quickly over rocks, picking items from surface. Also probes among rocks or in mats of algae. On breeding grounds, forages by walking or wading along mountain streams.


Includes insects, crustaceans, mollusks. On northern breeding grounds, feeds on insects, including flies, beetles, and caddisflies, also amphipods and small mollusks. During migration and winter, eats a variety of mollusks, marine worms, crabs and other crustaceans, and other invertebrates.


Early in breeding season, male displays over nesting habitat with high flight, giving whistled song; flight path is long and straight, may extend well beyond limits of nesting territory. Nest site is on ground among rocks or gravel near mountain stream. Nest is shallow depression; may be unlined, or may have substantial lining of small twigs, rootlets, and dry leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Widely dispersed range makes species difficult to census, but also probably helps to ensure survival.

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

Climate Threats Facing the Wandering Tattler

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.