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Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: SCOLOPACIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Least Sandpipers are the smallest of the small sandpipers known as “peeps”—not much bigger than a sparrow. They have distinctive yellow-green legs and a high-pitched creep call. Look for them on edges of mudflats or marshes, where they walk with a hunched posture and probe for little crustaceans, insects, and other invertebrates. This common but declining shorebird migrates thousands of miles between its arctic breeding grounds and wintering grounds as far south as Chile and Brazil.

Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3
Merlin Bird ID app

Keys to identification Help

Shorebirds
Shorebirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Least Sandpipers are tiny sandpipers with round bodies and relatively short, pointed wings. They have thin-tipped, slightly decurved bills and slim, medium-length legs.

  • Color Pattern

    They have brown upperparts and white underparts. Their bills are black, and their legs are yellowish-green (this can be obscured by mud at times). Juveniles have crisp plumage that is rustier than that of adults. In flight, Least Sandpipers show whitish rumps bisected by a longitudinal black line.

  • Behavior

    Least Sandpipers feed on invertebrates in the mud and sand along the edges of water. They often gather in loose flocks and frequently join other species, but they tend to be in smaller groups and feed toward drier edges than other small sandpipers.

  • Habitat

    Least Sandpipers feed on mudflats and the edges of water bodies. They tend to favor muddier shores and estuaries than other sandpipers, and are not common on ocean beaches. They breed in wet tundra and interrupted boreal forest across much of northern North America.

Range Map Help

Least Sandpiper Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

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.

Regional Differences

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.