Bird Lore: Western Sandpiper

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The Western Sandpiper is a long-distance migrant that passes through Edmonds during spring and fall shorebird migration. It is mostly seen at the Edmonds marsh but can be spotted occasionally along Edmonds beaches on lower tides. It is one of the most abundant shorebirds along the West Coast. It winters as far south as Peru on the Pacific. On the Atlantic and Gulf, it winters from New Jersey to Venezuela.

Foraging consists of walking in shallow water or on mud and probing the mud with its bill. The Western Sandpiper has a varied diet. On its breeding grounds along the coast of western Alaska it feeds on flies, beetles other insects, and small crustaceans. When migrating along the coast, this sandpiper eats amphipods, crustaceans, small mollusks, marine worms, and insects.

Over its breeding territory in western Alaska, the male Western Sandpiper sings while performing a flight display. On the ground, the male approaches the female with hunched posture and tail raised over his back while making a trilled call. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground, protected by a low shrub or clump of grass. It is lined sparsely with lichens, sedges, and leaves. The female typically lays four eggs. Both parents incubate them for about three weeks. The male’s share of incubation increases as the time for hatching approaches. Sometimes the female departs before the eggs hatch. The downy young leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. Both parents will care for the chicks if the female remains, but often she departs after a few days, leaving the male to care for the chicks. The young feed themselves and can take their first flight at about three weeks of age.

Migration consists of a series of short to moderate flights. The Western Sandpiper does not make long, overwater flights as do some shorebirds. For this reason, appropriate habitat is necessary for a series of resting and feeding stops. Although its numbers are still abundant, this sandpiper is vulnerable to habitat loss.

Estimates are that about 6,500,000 Western Sandpipers pass through Alaska’s Copper River delta each spring. Because of its abundance, the conservation status of this sandpiper is of least concern. You can listen to the flight call of the Western Sandpiper at this link: http://www.xeno-canto.org/113152.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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