The most widespread summer sandpiper in North America, the spotted sandpiper is distinct not only for its dotted plumage but also for its tipping stance. Familiar to many birders, being able to properly identify this shorebird can help you more quickly recognize when you're seeing a different sandpiper.
Spotted Sandpiper, Teeter-Peep, Tip-Tail, Perk Bird
- Bill: Same length as head, straight, pink-orange with black tip, dark in winter
- Size: 7-8 inches long with 12-inch wingspan, long tail, short neck
- Colors: Buff, brown, white, yellow, yellow-pink, black, olive-brown
- Markings: Genders are similar though females are larger and generally have more spots in breeding plumage. In breeding plumage, upperparts are olive-brown with scattered dark brown or black barring. A white eyebrow, thin white eye ring and dark eye line mark the face. Underparts are white with dark brown spots, with more spotting on the chest. Undertail coverts are white with dark bars or spots. The tail is brown but shows small white spots on the tips. In flight, the wings show a thin white line in the center but it does not reach to the edge. Winter plumage has plain brown upperparts and a brown eye line against the white eyebrow on the face. A blurry brown smudge extends onto the white shoulder and side of the chest. Underparts are plain white, without spots. Legs and feet are yellow year-round, but may be duller in winter.
Juveniles are similar to winter plumage but with duller legs and finer barring on the upperparts.
Species is monotypic.
Insects, larvae, small fish, snails (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These sandpipers prefer relatively open habitats near water, including the edges of freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and ponds as well as mudflats, marshes and wet woodlands. In winter, they can also be found along rocky shores and coasts.
The spotted sandpiper's summer breeding range includes most of Alaska and Canada except the very furthest northern region and extends as far south as Nevada, northern Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina. These birds begin migration as early as late June, heading for their wintering grounds in the very southern United States, through Central America and the Caribbean and as far south as central Chile and northern Argentina.
Regular vagrant spotted sandpiper sightings are recorded in Iceland and Europe, generally in the autumn.
These small sandpipers have a high-pitched, sweet "wheet-wheet" call and a sharp "peet-peet-peet" flight call that can be repeated with a frantic pace. They are often vocal when in motion, but can be silent when standing still.
These birds are often solitary and have the distinct habit of teetering when they walk or stand, often bobbing and dipping their rear ends. They will probe in the mud and sand to search for insects but will also chase after insects to catch them on the surface or snatch them out of the air. In flight, their wing beats are stiff, fast and shallow, and they follow a straight flight path low over the water's surface.
These are monogamous birds that come together in pairs after elaborate bobbing courtship dances. Both parents work together to build a shallow scrape nest lined with grass, weeds, feathers or moss, and the nest is on the ground or in very low vegetation. The eggs vary from off-white to a pale pink-green and are marked with brown speckles. There are 3-5 eggs per brood, and one female may lay 1-5 broods per year, though not always with the same mate.
The male parent incubates the eggs for 21-23 days, and the precocial young are ready to leave the nest within a day of hatching. The young birds are able to feed themselves immediately, but the male parent will stay nearby for guidance and protection for 14-20 days until the chicks mature.
Attracting Spotted Sandpipers:
While these are not typical backyard birds, they can be easily found in appropriate habitats, even in rural backyards where muddy ditches are present. Preserving habitat will help attract these shorebirds, as will minimizing insecticide use so food sources are not interrupted.
These widespread sandpipers are not endangered or threatened, though habitat loss and poor water quality can cause localized population decreases throughout their range, particularly during the breeding season when more chicks may not survive. Overall, however, no extreme measures are necessary for spotted sandpiper conservation.
- Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
- Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)
- Wandering Tattler (Iteteroscelus icanus)
- Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
- Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)