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18 Interesting Facts About Sandpipers

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Sandpipers are a diverse group of small to medium-sized shorebirds. There are about 30 different species of sandpipers, and they can be found along coastlines, beaches, and mudflats nearly worldwide. With their constantly moving stature and rhythmic pecking, sandpipers are fun birds to watch. Read on to learn more intriguing details about these remarkable shorebirds.

Sandpipers comprise the large family Scolopacidae, along with other shorebirds like snipes and phalaropes. They are known for their slender bills and legs, cryptic plumage, and habit of foraging while rapidly moving their bodies forward and backward. Sandpipers probe mud and sand in search of invertebrates, using their specialized bills to detect prey by touch. While some species of sandpipers breed in the Arctic, they all migrate incredible distances to escape harsh winters.

Facts About Sandpipers

1. Sandpipers have bills that act like sensitive forceps.

The ends of sandpiper bills have a cluster of sensory organs known as Herbst corpuscles. These organs allow sandpipers to precisely feel their prey as they probe into mud or sand. Their bills are also flexible at the tip, further enhancing their ability to detect and catch food.

2. They have ingenious camouflage to match their surroundings.

From a distance, sandpipers blend right into the coastal habitats where they feed. Their intricately patterned plumage features cryptic browns, grays, and whites that resemble sand and mud. This allows sandpipers to avoid detection from predators and prey alike. Only when they move can you discern them from the background.

3. Sandpipers exhibit some unusual sleeping behaviors.

On their arctic breeding grounds, sandpipers sleep with one half of their brain awake. This unihemispheric slow wave sleep might allow them to monitor the 24-hour daylight environment for predators. Sandpipers also squat down during drowsiness and tuck their beaks into their back feathers, likely retaining heat.

4. They have specialized feathers for insulation.

Sandpipers breed in some of the harshest Arctic climates on earth. To help them cope, they have downy under-feathers that create insulation. Their feathers feature loose barbules, allowing body heat to be trapped within small air pockets. Their feathers are also coated with water-repellant oils that provide weatherproofing.

5. Sandpipers undergo incredible migrations.

After breeding, sandpipers leave the Arctic to avoid the harshest winter months. Some species fly nonstop over oceans for thousands of miles. The diminutive red knot makes the longest known nonstop flight of any bird – a 4,000-mile journey from Alaska to New Zealand. Sandpipers depend on stopover sites to rest and feed during these epic travels.

6. They have interesting displays during the breeding season.

When pursuing mates in the Arctic spring, male sandpipers perform captivating courtship rituals. Aerial displays showcase their agility as they climb to heights of over 300 feet before spiraling downwards while calling loudly. Some species defend mating territories, using threat postures and physical combat.

Facts About Sandpipers

7. Sandpipers exhibit intriguing parenting behaviors.

Female sandpipers lay a clutch of perfectly camouflaged eggs in a simple scrape on the ground, often lined with leaves or lichen. Both parents share incubation duties. Once hatched, the precocial downy chicks feed themselves while being protected by their parents. The chicks even give their alarm calls!

8. They have legs adapted for a life on the edge.

Sandpipers have long legs in proportion to their bodies, allowing them to easily wade through shallow water. To resist sinking into mud, sandpipers have strong lower leg bones. Their legs can also function as shock absorbers, cushioning the impact of their landings.

9. Sandpipers run as fast as roadrunners.

The old adage “in a hurry? Don’t worry!” applies to sandpipers. Unique shoulder joints allow them to unfold and stretch their wings while running. This action turns their wings into sails, allowing some species to reach sprinting speeds of 15 miles per hour.

10. They are incredibly alert and aware of their surroundings.

Sandpipers that forage with their heads down still manage to remain vigilant for threats. Specialized muscles allow them to swivel their heads almost upside down to scan for predators. Their eyes are also positioned to provide panoramic vision while probing for food.

11. Sandpipers are ancient birds.

Fossil records indicate that primitive sandpiper relatives were already present during the late Cretaceous period over 65 million years ago. Early sandpiper lineages benefited from newly formed wetland habitats in the Paleogene period following the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.

12. They are bioindicators of ecosystem health.

Sandpipers rely on healthy intertidal areas rich in marine invertebrates, their main food source. Scientists study sandpipers to monitor the condition of these sensitive coastal ecosystems. Declining sandpiper populations may indicate threats like pollution, habitat loss from development, and climate change.

13. Sandpipers face numerous threats during migration.

Sandpipers must run an ominous gauntlet of threats during their long migrations between continents. They contend with habitat loss, pollution, extreme weather, hunting, and collision hazards like power lines and wind turbines. Conservation efforts aim to preserve their migratory stopover sites.

14. Some species of sandpipers are endangered.

Due to threats on their migration routes and in both their wintering and breeding habitats, some sandpipers struggle to maintain viable populations. Species like the spoon-billed sandpiper and Eskimo curlew are critically endangered. Habitat conservation and international cooperation are needed to ensure the future of these species.

15. You can attract sandpipers to your backyard.

Use a garden hose or rain barrel to create a muddy puddle area. Sprinkle some sand or fine gravel around the edges. Then sit back and watch for these shorebirds to discover your micro-habitat. You’ll be delighted observing their charming antics as they probe for food.

16. Sandpipers appear in myths and folklore.

In numerous world cultures, sandpipers symbolize watchfulness and preparedness. Legends say their incessant peering exemplifies maintaining awareness of one’s surroundings. Their long migrations also represent safe journeys and overcoming adversity through perseverance.

17. They communicate using a range of vocalizations.

Sandpipers may look nearly identical, but their calls are often species-specific. Fluty whistles demonstrate aerial displays while harsh “stit” notes express alarm. Sandpipers also communicate using non-vocal sounds like wing snaps, mandible clicks, and foot tremolos. Regional dialects even exist within some species!

18. Watching sandpipers exhibits the wonder of birds.

From their diminutive stature to their globe-spanning migrations, sandpipers showcase some of the most astounding attributes of birds. Their rhythmic movements harmonize with the surf as they chase receding waves along the shoreline. Simply observing sandpipers reconnects us to nature’s miracles unfolding before our eyes.


Sandpipers beautifully embody the interface where birds, land, and sea intersect along the world’s coastlines. These captivating yet common shorebirds reveal wondrous adaptations for survival. Their small size and cryptic nature make observing sandpipers a special treat for patient birdwatchers. Whether scurrying along the beach or embarking on epic migrations, sandpipers showcase the incredible diversity of our planet’s avian life.

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