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Purple Sandpiper


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A stout shorebird, the Purple Sandpiper breeds in the tundra and winters along rocky shores of the Atlantic Coast. Despite its name, it appears mostly slate-gray in winter, with only a faint purplish gloss, and shows no purple at all in breeding plumage.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
7.9–8.7 in
20–22 cm
16.5–18.1 in
42–46 cm
1.8–3.7 oz
50–105 g
Other Names
  • Becasseau violet (French)
  • Carellimos oscuro (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Purple Sandpiper has the northernmost winter range of any shorebird.
  • At Svalbard, an archipelago north of Scandinavia, the male Purple Sandpiper was found to be primarily responsible for parental care of hatchlings. In other shorebird species, parental care mostly by males is often associated with polyandry (one female with several mates), but the Purple Sandpiper is evidently monogamous (one mate only), with a long-term pair bond.
  • Purple Sandpipers breeding in high-arctic Canada may migrate through Greenland and Iceland and winter in Europe.



Breeds along low tundra near shorelines, as well as gravel beaches along rivers. Winters along rocky coastlines and man-made jetties.



During breeding, mostly insects and spiders, plus seeds and berries. In winter, mostly gastropods, insects, and crustaceans.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–4 eggs
Egg Description
Beige to olive, with variable spotting.
Condition at Hatching
Completely covered with dense white down. Capable of walking and pecking at ground within a few hours of hatching.
Nest Description

Depression in the ground, lined with leaves and down.

Nest Placement




Purple Sandpipers of both sexes raise one wing straight up in response to perceived threats. In its distraction display, commonly called the "Rodent Run" display, the Purple Sandpiper tries to draw predators away from nests by running, conspicuously fluffing feathers, and making mouse-like squeals.Feeds on rocky intertidal areas and break-waters, running among seaweed and rocks and picking prey. Found on rocks in splashing surf. Less commonly feeds along beaches or muddy pools. Also feeds by picking in tundra soils.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

There is little information on Purple Sandpiper population trends, in part because the birds move around a lot, with some populations having trans-Atlantic migrations, and others breeding in remote Arctic locations. A 2012 estimates the North American population at 25,000, and notes that populations appear to be declining. Count data in Canada shows a statistically significant decline in numbers. In the United States, identifying and protecting winter habitat is a management priority. North American populations are on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists species most in danger of extinction without significant conservation action.


  • Payne, L. X., and E. P. Pierce. 2002. Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima). In The Birds of North America, No. 706 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Andres, B.A., P.A. Smith, R.I.G. Morrison, C.L. Gratto-Trevor, S.C. Brown, and C.A. Friis. 2012. Population estimates of North American Shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194. Available from the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan website.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.

Range Map Help

Purple Sandpiper Range Map
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