Living Bird Magazine
Least SandpiperCalidris minutilla
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Playero Diminuto (Spanish)
- Bécasseau minuscule (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world, weighing in at about 1 ounce and measuring 5-6 inches long. Males are slightly smaller than females.
- Eastern populations probably fly nonstop over the ocean from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and New England to wintering grounds in northeastern South America, a distance of about 1,800 to 2,500 miles.
- Researchers studying Least Sandpipers discovered a new feeding mechanism. While probing damp mud with their bills, the sandpipers use the surface tension of the water to transport prey quickly from their bill tips to their mouths.
- Least Sandpipers hunt for food on slightly drier, higher ground compared to other small sandpipers. Although numerous worldwide, they usually flock in smaller numbers—dozens rather than hundreds or thousands—than some other shorebirds.
- The oldest Least Sandpiper on record was a female, and at least 15 years old when she was recaptured and released by a Nova Scotia researcher in 1985.