Sandpipers are a large family, Scolopacidae, of waders or shorebirds. They include many species called sandpipers, as well as those called by names such as curlew and snipe. The majority of these species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Different lengths of bills enable different species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food.
Sandpipers have long bodies and legs, and narrow wings. Most species have a narrow bill, but otherwise the form and length are quite variable. They are small to medium-sized birds, measuring 12 to 66 cm (4.7–26.0 in) cm in length. The bills are sensitive, allowing the birds to feel the mud and sand as they probe for food. They generally have dull plumage, with cryptic brown, grey, or streaked patterns, although some display brighter colours during the breeding season.
Most species nest in open areas, and defend their territories with aerial displays. The nest itself is a simple scrape in the ground, in which the bird typically lays three or four eggs. The young of most species are precocial.
Temporal range: Early Oligocene to recent
|Dunlin (Calidris alpina)|
The family Scolopacidae was introduced (as Scolopacea) by the French polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1815. This large family is often further subdivided into groups of similar birds. These groups do not necessarily consist of a single genus, but as presented here they do form distinct monophyletic evolutionary lineages. The groups, with species numbers in parentheses, are:
The early fossil record is very bad for a group that was probably present at the non-avian dinosaur's extinction. "Totanus" teruelensis (Late Miocene of Los Mansuetos (Spain) is sometimes considered a scolopacid – maybe a shank – but may well be a larid; little is known of it.
Paractitis has been named from the Early Oligocene of Saskatchewan (Canada), while Mirolia is known from the Middle Miocene at Deiningen in the Nördlinger Ries (Germany). Most living genera would seem to have evolved throughout the Oligocene to Miocene with the waders perhaps a bit later; see the genus accounts for the fossil record.
In addition there are some indeterminable remains that might belong to extant genera or their extinct relatives:
The sandpipers exhibit considerable range in size and appearance, the wide range of body forms reflecting a wide range of ecological niches. Sandpipers range in size from the least sandpiper, at as little as 18 grams (0.040 pounds) and 11 cm (4.3 in) in length, to the Far Eastern curlew, at up to 66 cm (26 in) in length, and the Eurasian curlew, at up to 1.3 kg (2.9 lb). Within species there is considerable variation in patterns of sexual dimorphism. Males are larger than females in ruffs and several sandpipers, but are smaller than females in the knots, curlews, phalaropes and godwits. The sexes are similarly sized in the snipes, woodcock and tringine sandpipers. Compared to the other large family of wading birds, the plovers (Charadriidae) they tend to have smaller eye, more slender heads, and longer thinner bills. Some are quite long-legged, and most species have three forward pointing toes with a smaller hind toe (the exception is the sanderling, which lacks a hind toe).
Sandpipers are more geared towards tactile foraging methods than the plovers, which favour more visual foraging methods, and this is reflected in the high density of tactile receptors in the tips of their bills. These receptors are housed in a slight horny swelling at the tip of the bill (except for the surfbird and the two turnstones). Bill shape is highly variable within the family, reflecting differences in feeding ecology. Bill length relative to head length varies from three times the length of the head in the long-billed curlew to just under half the head length in the Tuamotu sandpiper. Bills may be straight, slightly upcurled or strongly downcurved. Like all birds, the bills of sandpipers are capable of cranial kinesis, literally being able to move the bones of the skull (other than the obvious movement of the lower jaw) and specifically bending the upper jaw without opening the entire jaw, an act known as rhynchokinesis. It has been hypothesized this helps when probing by allowing the bill to be partly opened with less force and improving manipulation of prey items in the substrate. Rhynchokinesis is also used by sandpipers feeding on prey in water to catch and manipulate prey.
The sandpipers have a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring across most of the world's land surfaces except for Antarctica and the driest deserts. A majority of the family breed at moderate to high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, in fact accounting for the most northerly breeding birds in the world. Only a few species breed in tropical regions, ten of which are snipes and woodcocks and the remaining species being the unusual Tuamotu sandpiper, which breeds in French Polynesia (although prior to the arrival of humans in the Pacific there were several other closely related species of Polynesian sandpiper).
There are broadly four feeding styles employed by the sandpipers, although many species are flexible and may use more than one style. The first is pecking with occasional probing, usually done by species in drier habitats that do not have soft soils or mud. The second, and most frequent, method employed is probing soft soils, muds and sands for prey. The third, used by Tringa shanks, involves running in shallow water with the bill under the water chasing fish, a method that uses sight as well as tactile senses. The final method, employed by the phalaropes and some Calidris sandpipers, involves pecking at the water for small prey. A few species of scolopacids are omnivorous to some extent, taking seeds and shoots as well as invertebrates.
Many sandpipers form monogamous pairs, but some sandpipers have female-only parental care, some male-only parental care, some sequential polyandry and other compete for the mate on the lek. Sandpipers lay three or four eggs into the nest, which is usually a vague depression or scrap in the open ground, scarcely lined with soft vegetation. In species where both parents incubate the eggs, females and males share their incubation duties in various ways both within and between species. In some pairs, parents exchange on the nest in the morning and in the evening so that their incubation rhythm follows 24-hour day, in others each sex may sit on the nest continuously for up to 24 hours before it is exchanged by its partner. In species where only single parent incubates the eggs, during the night the parent sits on the eggs nearly continuously and then during the warmest part of a day leaves the nest for short feeding bouts. Chicks hatch after about three weeks of incubation and are able to walk and forage within few hour of hatching. Single parent or both parents guide and brood the chicks.
The Baird's sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) is a small shorebird. It is among those calidrids which were formerly included in the genus Erolia, which was subsumed into the genus Calidris in 1973. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The English name and specific bairdii commemorate Spencer Fullerton Baird, 19th-century naturalist and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.Broad-billed sandpiper
The broad-billed sandpiper (Calidris falcinellus) is a small wading bird. The scientific name is from Latin. The specific name falcinella is from falx, falcis, "a sickle. Some research suggests that it should rather go into the genus Philomachus.Buff-breasted sandpiper
The buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) is a small shorebird. The species name subruficollis is from Latin subrufus, "reddish" (from sub, "somewhat", and rufus, "rufous") and collis, "-necked/-throated" (from collum, "neck"). It is a calidrid sandpiper.Common sandpiper
The common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) is a small Palearctic wader. This bird and its American sister species, the spotted sandpiper (A. macularia), make up the genus Actitis. They are parapatric and replace each other geographically; stray birds of either species may settle down with breeders of the other and hybridize. Hybridization has also been reported between the common sandpiper and the green sandpiper, a basal species of the closely related shank genus Tringa.Curlew sandpiper
The curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) is a small wader that breeds on the tundra of Arctic Siberia. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific ferruginea is from Latin ferrugo, ferruginis, "iron rust" referring to its colour in breeding plumage.It is strongly migratory, wintering mainly in Africa, but also in south and southeast Asia and in Australia and New Zealand. It is a vagrant to North America.Green sandpiper
The green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) is a small wader (shorebird) of the Old World. The genus name Tringa is the New Latin name given to the green sandpiper by Aldrovandus in 1599 based on Ancient Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, white-rumped, tail-bobbing wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. The specific ochropus is from Ancient Greek okhros, "ochre", and pous, "foot".The green sandpiper represents an ancient lineage of the genus Tringa; its only close living relative is the solitary sandpiper (T. solitaria). They both have brown wings with little light dots and a delicate but contrasting neck and chest pattern. In addition, both species nest in trees, unlike most other scolopacids.Given its basal position in Tringa, it is fairly unsurprising that suspected cases of hybridisation between this species and the common sandpiper (A. hypoleucos) of the sister genus Actitis have been reported.Least sandpiper
The least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is the smallest shorebird. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific minutilla is Medieval Latin for "very small".Marsh sandpiper
The marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader. It is a rather small shank, and breeds in open grassy steppe and taiga wetlands from easternmost Europe to central Asia. The genus name Tringa is the New Latin name given to the green sandpiper by Aldrovandus in 1599 based on Ancient Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, white-rumped, tail-bobbing wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. The specific stagnatilis is from Latin stagnum, "swamp".Pectoral sandpiper
The pectoral sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) is a small, migratory wader that breeds in North America and Asia, wintering in South America and Oceania. It eats small invertebrates. Its nest, a hole scraped in the ground and with a thick lining, is deep enough to protect its four eggs from the cool breezes of its breeding grounds. The pectoral sandpiper is 21 cm (8.3 in) long, with a wingspan of 46 cm (18 in).Purple sandpiper
The purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima) is a small shorebird. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific maritima is from Latin and means "of the sea", from mare, "sea".Semipalmated sandpiper
The semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) is a very small shorebird. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific pusilla is Latin for "very small".It is sometimes separated with other "stints" in Erolia, but, although these apparently form a monophyletic group, the present species' old genus Ereunetes had been proposed before Erolia.Sharp-tailed sandpiper
The sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) (but see below) is a small wader.Solitary sandpiper
The solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) is a small shorebird. The genus name Tringa is the New Latin name given to the green sandpiper by Aldrovandus in 1599 based on Ancient Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, white-rumped, tail-bobbing wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. The specific solitaria is Latin for "solitary" from solus, "alone".Spotted sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) is a small shorebird, 18–20 cm (7.1–7.9 in) long. The genus name Actitis is from Ancient Greek aktites, "coast-dweller", derived from akte, "coast", and macularius is Latin from macula, "spot".Terek sandpiper
The Terek sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) is a small migratory Palearctic wader species, the only member of the genus Xenus. It is named after the Terek River which flows into the west of the Caspian Sea, as it was first observed around this area. The genus name Xenus is from Ancient Greek xenos stranger, and cinereus is Latin for "ash-grey" from cinis, cineris, "ashes".The Shadow of Your Smile
"The Shadow of Your Smile", also known as "Love Theme from The Sandpiper", is a popular song. The music was written by Johnny Mandel with the lyrics written by Paul Francis Webster. The song was introduced in the 1965 film The Sandpiper, with a trumpet solo by Jack Sheldon and later became a minor hit for Tony Bennett (Johnny Mandel arranged and conducted his version as well). It won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2004 the song finished at #77 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs poll of the top tunes in American cinema.Upland sandpiper
The upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) is a large sandpiper, closely related to the curlews. Older names are the upland plover and Bartram's sandpiper. In Louisiana, it is also colloquially known as the papabotte. It is the only member of the genus Bartramia. The genus name and the old common name Bartram's sandpiper commemorate the American naturalist William Bartram. The species name longicauda is from Latin longus, "long" and caudus, "tail". The name "Bartram's sandpiper" was made popular by Alexander Wilson, who was taught ornithology and natural history illustration by Bartram.Western sandpiper
The western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) is a small shorebird. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific mauri commemorates Italian botanist Ernesto Mauri (1791–1836).Adults have dark legs and a short, thin, dark bill, thinner at the tip. The body is brown on top and white underneath. They are reddish-brown on the crown. This bird can be difficult to distinguish from other similar tiny shorebirds, especially the semipalmated sandpiper. This is particularly the case in winter plumage, when both species are plain gray. The western sandpiper acquires winter plumage much earlier in the autumn than the semipalmated sandpiper.
Their breeding habitat is tundra in eastern Siberia and Alaska. They nest on the ground usually under some vegetation. The male makes several scrapes; the female selects one and lays 4 eggs. Both parents incubate and care for dependent young, who feed themselves. Sometimes the female deserts her mate and brood prior to offspring fledging.
They migrate to both coasts of North America and South America. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.
These birds forage on mudflats during migration and the non-breeding season by probing or picking up food by sight. Foraging occurs on tundra and wet meadows during the breeding season. They mainly eat insects, small crustaceans, and mollusks.
This is one of the most abundant shorebird species in North America with a population in the millions.Wood sandpiper
The wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola) is a small wader. This Eurasian species is the smallest of the shanks, which are mid-sized long-legged waders of the family Scolopacidae. The genus name Tringa is the New Latin name given to the green sandpiper by Aldrovandus in 1599 based on Ancient Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, white-rumped, tail-bobbing wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. The specific glareola is from Latin glarea, " gravel".