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Spotted Sandpiper

Posted on Aug 4, 2016

The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) is one of our easier to identify shorebirds from any distance, and their unique behaviors make them a stand out from the crowd – literally. While you may run into large flocks of shorebirds numbering in the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands heading south in the summer along lakes, in marshes, or on the Atlantic coast, you will very likely find only one or two or a handful of Spotted Sandpipers at a time. Even if multiple Spotteds are present in one place they will probably be on different flocks, not bumping into one another or seeking the safety of a group. They may be in forests or at freshwater ponds, too, unlike some of their relatives.

Spotted Sandpiper SFP water garden-9600

Photos never do the species justice as even their movements are memorable as they rock back and forth while walking, their head and tail almost exploding in fast and jerky fashion that is interspersed with little jogs. If they are not dashing somewhere quickly then they are crouching like this second photo shows, looking to strike at prey that includes invertebrates, crustaceans, and fish.

Spotted Sandpiper SFP water garden-9605

The strangest aspect of the species’ locomotion may be in their flight patterns. They rapidly flap their wings while holding them quite low relative to the ground and then glide before quickly flapping again, keeping their entire body near the surface. The sudden pop of their wings looks cumbersome and strained, and even gliding looks forced with each wing held barely beyond the body. July into August is often the best time of year to spot a Spotted, and good birding to those who are looking to check it off on their life list.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator