- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
With rufous and gold markings on the head and wings, breeding adult Western Sandpipers are the most colorful of the tiny North American sandpipers known as “peeps.” This abundant shorebird gathers in flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands in California and Alaska during spring migration. It’s among the continent’s great wildlife spectacles, particularly when they fly up and wheel about, exercising their wings (or fleeing from falcons on the hunt) before flying to remote nesting grounds in the Arctic.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Western Sandpipers are fairly common in tidal areas where they join other shorebirds in foraging on mudflats at low and middle tides. These tiny birds can be a long way away, so a spotting scope is all but essential for distinguishing them from other small shorebirds. In inland habitats such as flooded fields, sewage ponds, or muddy lakeshores, Western Sandpipers are often closer, but usually less plentiful. In nonbreeding plumage, “peeps” can be hard to identify to the species level, so taking photos or digiscoping can be useful for later study.
- Correlimos de Alaska (Spanish)
- Bécasseau d'Alaska (French)
- Cool Facts
- Like many sandpiper species, Western Sandpiper females have longer bills than males and are generally larger. In the populations of Western Sandpipers that winter farthest south, females outnumber males, while the reverse is true in the northern parts of the winter range.
- In migration, the Western Sandpiper stages in huge, spectacular flocks, particularly along the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay and in the Copper River Delta in Alaska. Estimates suggest that nearly the whole breeding population passes through the Copper River Delta during just a few weeks each spring.
- Many of the Western Sandpipers that winter in Central America remain there for the first summer of their lives, rather than migrating north to breed. By contrast, birds of the same age that winter in the United States or Mexico usually attempt to return to the breeding grounds in their first spring.
- Western Sandpipers compete with many other sandpiper species when foraging. When larger Dunlin are absent, Western Sandpipers forage at the edge of the receding or advancing tide, where prey is easiest to catch. When Dunlin are present, Westerns often forage on drier areas of mud.
- The oldest recorded Western Sandpiper was at least 9 years, 2 months, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Kansas.