Sanderlings Speed Along the Ocean’s Edge

These delightful little shorebirds can be seen scurrying on beaches around the world.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

Here and there along winter shorelines, both on the Pacific and Atlantic, little flocks of pale, silvery shorebirds probe at the water’s edge, keeping pace with each wave’s ebb and flow. These small sandpipers are called Sanderlings. 

Rachel Carson, whose book Under the Sea Wind set a high standard for nature writing, described Sanderlings as running “with a twinkle of black feet.” Carson depicted Sanderlings’ foraging along the beach as “keeping in the thin film at the edge of the ebbing surf . . . where puffs of blown spume or sea froth rolled like thistle down.”

Sanderlings also winter in the Hawaiian Islands. In the native language, they are known as hunakai, or “sea foam,” an apt description of the sandpipers’ pale winter plumage and their nimble dance with the waves. 

In the warmer months, Sanderlings nest in the extreme north, most north of the Arctic Circle, in remote sites in Canada, Greenland, and Siberia. In winter, however, they spread out as far as any bird in the world. Their silvery flocks are sprinkled along beaches throughout the temperate and tropic zones, on six of the seven continents.

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.


Call of the Sanderlings provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by R.S. Little

Ocean waves provided by Kessler Productions

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Narrator: Mary McCann

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2016 Tune In to   February 2012/2018