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Solitary Sandpiper Life History



Solitary Sandpipers nest by freshwater lakes, ponds, and creeks in areas of muskeg bogs and spruce trees. Migrants turn up in an astonishing variety of settings. They are rarely seen on mudflats or saltmarshes with other shorebirds, but they will put down in almost any puddle in any setting, from inner city to forest interior. They often stop at lakes, ponds, or streams similar to their nesting habitat, especially where there are extensive muddy margins. They also appear in ditches, stagnant pools, cow pastures, rain pools, freshwater swamps, flooded sod farms or sports fields, bogs, rice fields, and even in wooded wetlands at higher elevations. In the tropics, where most spend the winter, they also use freshwater environments, especially ponds and puddles bordered by shrubs, rivers and streams with muddy or sandy margins, mats of floating vegetation, and marshy fields with small pools. Here, too, they may be found at rather high elevations, up to about 4,000 feet elevation.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Solitary Sandpipers hunt insects, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, and other prey by walking along muddy shores or in shallow water. They hunt by sight, seizing prey with the bill and rarely probing into the mud. Solitary Sandpipers sometimes vibrate one foot in the water, which causes prey to move. They often hunt in wet leaf litter for terrestrial invertebrates and occasionally glean insects from vegetation in dry environments as well. Known prey items include mosquito larvae, midges, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, hellgrammites, caddisfly larvae, small flies, water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs, worms, and larger prey such as small clams, crayfish, snails, small fish (shiners), tadpoles, salamanders, and frogs.

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Nest Placement


Solitary Sandpipers use old nests of songbirds in trees, especially those of American Robins, Rusty Blackbirds, Canada Jays, and Cedar Waxwings, which are usually near the trunks of small trees a few yards above the ground, but may be higher.

Nest Description

Males identify old songbird nests that have potential, and females apparently make the final selection. Females modify the nest by removing old lining and often relining with fresh materials.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.4-1.5 in (3.432-3.916 cm)
Egg Width:1.0-1.4 in (2.441-3.586 cm)
Incubation Period:23-24 days
Condition at Hatching:Downy and active, able to leave nest as soon as down dries.
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Solitary Sandpipers are monogamous. Males establish territories on the breeding grounds as soon as they arrive in spring. These can be large (as large as 124 acres), but some pairs nest rather close to each other, During migration and wintering months, foraging individuals frequently chase off others of their species. Conflicts between males over territories are often resolved through threat displays; fights involve extensive pecking until one gives up. Males display over their territory (more intensely when a female appears) by rising slowly a few yards into the air on quivering wings, spreading the tail, singing, and then slowly descending to the same spot. Males also display by holding up a single wing, both before and after copulation, and afterward, they perform a slow, undulating flight that concludes with a hovering song-flight. Both parents feed and care for young.

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Low Concern

Solitary Sandpipers are common, but trends for this arctic-breeding species are hard to track. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 190,000 individuals. The group rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating it is a species of low conservation concern. Unlike more gregarious shorebird species in the Americas, Solitary Sandpiper is not targeted by hunters in the Caribbean or South America. The greatest threat to this species is probably from destruction and degradation of habitat, both on the breeding grounds and wintering grounds.

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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.

Moskoff, William. (2011). Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Oring, L. W. (1973). Solitary Sandpiper early reproductive behavior. Auk 90:652-663.

Partners in Flight (2019). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2019.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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