Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularius

The most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America, the Spotted Sandpiper breeds along the edges of nearly any water source throughout the northern half of the continent. It is at home around urban ponds as well as tundra pools.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The female Spotted Sandpiper is the one who establishes and defends the territory. She arrives at the breeding grounds earlier than the male. In other species of migratory birds, where the male establishes the territory, he arrives earlier.
  • The male takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the young. One female may lay eggs for up to four different males at a time.
  • The female may store sperm for up to one month. The eggs she lays for one male may be fathered by a different male in a previous mating.
  • The function of the teetering motion typical of this species has not been determined. Chicks teeter nearly as soon as they hatch from the egg. The teetering gets faster when the bird is nervous, but stops when the bird is alarmed, aggressive, or courting.


  • Size: 18-20 cm (7-8 in)
  • Wingspan: 37-40 cm (15-16 in)
  • Weight: 34-50 g (1.2-1.77 ounces)
  • Medium-sized shorebird.
  • Legs moderately long.
  • Neck moderately long.
  • Bill medium-sized.
  • Back brown.
  • Underparts white with distinct round spots.
  • Constantly bobs its tail and rear end up and down as it walks.
  • Flies with bursts of shallow, fluttering wing beats.
  • White stripe along wings visible in flight.
  • Rump and tail dark.
  • Tail white on outside only.
  • Thin white eyestripe, indistinct white eyering.
Breeding adult (Alternate Plumage): Brown above with indistinct black bars scattered across back. White below with bold black spotting. Legs flesh-colored.
Non breeding adult (Basic Plumage): Upperparts grayer and without barring. Underparts white, with brown extending down sides of breast. Legs yellowish.
Sex Differences
Sexes alike in plumage, but females are larger and have larger spots that extend farther down the lower belly.
Juvenile resembles winter adult, but has scalloping of dark edges to back feathers, especially on the wings.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Actitis
Species: Actitis macularius
  • Actitis hypoleucos
  • Actitis macularius
Call a high pitched whistled "weet," uttered singly or in pairs.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 19 cm (7.5 in)
  • Weight: 40 g (1.4 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown
  • Underparts: White with brown-black spots.
  • Upperparts: Olive-brown
  • Back Pattern: Barred or banded
  • Belly Pattern: Spotted or speckled
  • Breast Pattern: Spotted or speckled
  • Bill Shape: Dagger
  • Eye Color: Dark brown to hazel.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Plain, Eyering
  • Crown Color: Olive-brown
  • Forehead Color: Olive-brown
  • Nape Color: Olive-brown
  • Throat Color: White with brown-black spots.
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Direct flight low over water.
  • Wingspan Range: 33-36 cm (13-14 in)
  • Wing Shape: Tapered-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Squared Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Dark brown with black and white barring and dark central feather.
  • Under Tail: White
  • Leg Color: Dull yellow
  • Breeding Location: Seashore, rocky or sandy, Grassland with scattered trees, Grasslands, Streams, upland
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester, Polyandrous
  • Breeding Population: Widespread
  • Egg Color: Brown, green, pink or buff blotched with brown
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 5
  • Incubation Days: 20 - 24
  • Egg Incubator: Male
  • Nest Material: Lined with moss, grass, feathers, and weeds.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Downy and able to leave nest. Teetering starts at 30 minutes old.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Chevalier grivelé (French)
  • Playero coleador (Spanish)
  • Solitary Sandpiper occasionally bobs its tail, but is slightly larger, lacks the white eyestripe, has a more prominent white eyering, has white spotting on the back, and has no wingstripe in flight.
  • Wandering Tattler teeters too, but is much larger and is plain gray overall or with heavy barring on underparts, and no white in wings.

Conservation Status

Common and widespread.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

  • Breeds in a variety of habitats, such as shoreline, sagebrush, grassland, forest, lawn, or park.
  • Territories must include some shoreline of a stream, lake, or pond.
  • Winters wherever water is present.
  • Oring, L. W., E. M. Gray, and J. M. Reed. 1997. Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia). In The Birds of North America, No. 289 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornthologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.
Walks and wades, thrusts head forward and grabs prey.

Adult Non-breeding Plumage

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Additional Photos & Video


All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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