Least Sandpipers are the smallest of the small, hard-to-identify sandpipers known as “peeps.” Semipalmated Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers are slightly larger with stouter bills and black legs instead of the Least Sandpiper’s yellowish legs. They have lighter, grayer, less brown upperparts than Least Sandpiper. The other peep with yellowish legs is the Pectoral Sandpiper, which is substantially larger with a dark shield of streaking on the chest. The size of individual shorebirds can be difficult to assess in the field, so it’s important to judge size by comparing a mystery bird to other, known species. Small plovers, such as the Snowy Plover and Piping Plover, are plumper and paler, with shorter bills than Least Sandpipers. Plovers lack intricate markings on the back, and they tend to occur higher up on beaches, where they pick at prey items rather than probing in the sand.
Tiny (our smallest shorebird); Slightly larger than a sparrow; slightly smaller than a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Find This Bird
Least Sandpipers breed in the tundra of the far north, so most people see them during migration (April to May and July to October) or winter. Look for them on mudflats or protected beaches. They are easiest to find on the coasts, but are also plentiful as migrants on inland bodies of water. Once you find suitable habitat of wet mud or sand, scan the edges of the water and look for very small sandpipers, warm brown above and white below with a short, thin, slightly decurved bill. If you can see yellowish legs you’ll be able to narrow down this bird quickly; just keep in mind that their legs sometimes look dark from mud stains. Shorebird identification can be complicated, so it’s important to look closely and carefully.