Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularius

Spotted_Sandpiper_3-17-16.jpg

Photo of a spotted sandpiper standing on a muddy shore, side view.
The spotted sandpiper is known for its spotted breast, orange bill, and unique teetering, tail-bobbing gait.
Jim Rathert
Family

Scolopacidae (sandpipers) in the order Charadriiformes (shorebirds, gulls, terns)

Description

Medium-sized shorebird with a rounded belly. Brown above and white below, with large, well-defined dark spots on the breast. The bill is orange with a dark tip. Teeters and nods as it walks, constantly bobbing its tail; flies with stiff, rapid wingbeats. The whistled weet-weet-weet call is lower pitched than that of the solitary sandpiper.

Similar species: One of our more common sandpipers. Not counting other shorebirds (plovers, stilts, etc.), there are 26 species of sandpipers in Missouri. This is the most difficult group of shorebirds to identify. Start by learning sandpiper subgroups — yellowlegs, godwits and curlews, peeps and dowitchers — and by learning some of the easier species, such as upland sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, and buff-breasted sandpiper. You will soon learn the distinctive characters and behaviors that separate them.

Size

Length: 7½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

Spotted_Sandpiper_3-17-16.jpg

Photo of a spotted sandpiper standing on a muddy shore, side view.
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper is known for its spotted breast, orange bill, and unique teetering, tail-bobbing gait.

Spotted_Sandpiper_foraging_in_shallow_water_3-17-16.jpg

Photo of a spotted sandpiper foraging in shallow water.
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper is usually seen as it forages on stream banks, flooded row-crop fields, and mudflats.

Spotted_Sandpiper_foraging_on_muddy_shore_3-17-16.jpg

Photo of a spotted sandpiper foraging on a muddy shore.
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper teeters and nods as it walks, constantly bobbing its tail; it flies with stiff, rapid wingbeats.

Spotted_Sandpiper_standing_3-17-16.jpg

Photo of a spotted sandpiper standing on some mud amid shallow water.
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper is well-known because of its enormous breeding range, which includes much of the continental United States.
Habitat and conservation

Usually seen as it forages on stream banks, flooded row-crop fields, and mudflats. Use its teetering, bobbing walking gait and stiff, shallow wingbeats to help identify it. This is perhaps our best-known sandpiper, on account of its enormous breeding range, which includes much of the continental United States. Most other shorebirds breed far to our north.

Foods

Eats insects, crustaceans, worms, other invertebrates, and fish. They forage actively, probing mud and sand with their slender bills, sometimes darting or lunging after prey. They also catch flying insects and pick them off the ground.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common transient; uncommon summer resident. It has the largest breeding range of any sandpiper in North America.

Life cycle

Spotted sandpipers breed from Alaska and the Yukon nearly to the southern coast of the continental United States, including Missouri. They arrive here in April and are present through the end of September. Nests are built on the ground within 100 yards of water. Clutches comprise 3–5 eggs, which hatch in about 20 days. Young are able to leave the nest soon after hatching. The winter range extends from the southern coast of the United States and southward through most of South America.

Human connections

Some biologists study animal behavior, and how it helps animals to survive and reproduce. They are fascinated by birds like the spotted sandpiper, which reverse the usual roles: Females do courtship displays, defend territories, and can have multiple mates, and the males tend the nest and chicks.

Ecosystem connections

Sandpipers are predators that eat small animals such as insects and small fish. Thus they help maintain balance in the populations of those animals. Other animals prey on sandpipers and their eggs and young.