Bird Lore: Spotted Sandpiper

Photo by LeRoy Van Hee
Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

The Spotted Sandpiper in this photo was in the Edmonds marsh last Saturday morning, May 24. In recent years this species has been seen only sporadically in Edmonds, either in the marsh vicinity or along the rocky parts of the beach between the ferry dock and Shell Creek. In earlier years it would be seen in small numbers in the summer and was thought to breed in the marsh.

The Spotted Sandpiper is the only North American sandpiper to breed below the Arctic. It breeds across the U.S. and Canada. The length of this sandpiper is 6.75 inches. The female is larger than the male and is aggressive in defense of her breeding territory. She can mate several times during the breeding season. She will lay from 3 to 5 eggs, near fresh water, in a shallow depression on the ground, lined with moss, grasses and feathers. The male then incubates the eggs for 20 to 24 days while the female mates again with another male. The downy young leave the nest soon after hatching and feed themselves.

The diet of the Spotted Sandpiper consists of a variety of insects, earthworms and crustaceans such as crabs, mollusks, and crayfish. It will snatch insects out of the air, pick up food from the ground or water surface, and forage in shallow water.

As the Spotted Sandpiper walks along the shore of marshes, ponds, and streams, it bobs the rear of its body, appearing to teeter. This is unique among the smaller sandpipers. It flies away low over the water when it is startled. It flies with rapid shallow wingbeats and short glides. Its wings appear stiff. This sandpiper is a loner, seldom seen in flocks. It is both a short- and long-distance migrant in that it overwinters in the southern coastal and border states as well as in southern South America.

One of the calls of the Spotted Sandpiper can be heard at this link:

— By  Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, 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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