Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
The Sanderling’s black legs blur as it runs back and forth on the beach, picking or probing for tiny prey in the wet sand left by receding waves. Sanderlings are medium-sized “peep” sandpipers recognizable by their pale nonbreeding plumage, black legs and bill, and obsessive wave-chasing habits. Learn this species, and you’ll have an aid in sorting out less common shorebirds. These extreme long-distance migrants breed only on High Arctic tundra, but during the winter they live on most of the sandy beaches of the world.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Sanderlings are easy to find on sandy beaches from fall through spring. Pick a beach with a low, gradual slope and walk along the water’s edge. Look for small shorebirds running back and forth in sync with the waves—these are likely to be Sanderlings. While other shorebirds such as plovers and Willets may feed alongside Sanderlings on these outer beaches, this is truly the Sanderling’s domain; these plucky birds often aggressively defend their feeding territories at water’s edge from other shorebirds.
- Playero Blanco (Spanish)
- Bécasseau sanderling (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Sanderling’s mating system varies from area to area and possibly from year to year. Sanderlings are usually monogamous, but in some cases the female breeds with multiple males in a row within a single breeding season.
- Nonbreeding Sanderlings often stay on the wintering grounds through the summer, saving energy by avoiding the long trip to the Arctic nesting grounds. Many nonbreeders remain in South America, while fewer remain along the North American coasts.
- After foraging on the beach, Sanderlings often regurgitate sand pellets studded with fragments of mollusk and crustacean shells.
- The Sanderling is one of the world’s most widespread shorebirds. Though they nest only in the High Arctic, in fall and winter you can find them on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world. The Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel are the only other shorebirds that rival its worldwide distribution.
- When threatened by a Peregrine Falcon, Sanderlings fly in a compact flock that maneuvers erratically over the ocean. Whenever you see a flock of shorebirds abruptly take flight all at once, scan the skies to see if a falcon is the cause of the sudden alarm. In their escapes, individual Sanderlings may occasionally dive right into the water.
- The oldest Sanderling on record was at least 13 years, 1 month old. It lived in Nova Scotia.