Introduction to Sandpipers

Do you ever see Sandpipers running or flying on the beach and wonder what kind they are? There are actually many different species of Sandpiper. Learn how to easily identify them in this article!

The Sanderlings

run down the sandy beach towards the ocean as soon as the waves retreat, searching for small crustaceans, insects or worms. Then, the waves crash and chase them back up. They run up and down, over and over again. It is amusing how they work together and dance with the ocean waves. This behavior is one way to differentiate this species from other peeps.

Another way to tell them apart is the black-and-white spangled pattern on the back of the juveniles as well as a black leading edge on their wing (seen below). The adults have more color.


Semi-palmated Sandpipers

are one of the most common Sandpipers and look similar to Sanderlings. However, the S-P lacks the black on the wing of the Sanderling and the overall wing pattern is different (compare to above). Semi-palmateds have black legs and a blunt-tipped bill. They are more commonly seen on mudflats and rocky shorelines.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Least Sandpipers

are very similar to the two above, but there are two big differences. Their much lighter yellow or green legs and their smaller size are two distinguishing characteristics of the Least Sandpiper. They are the smallest sandpiper.

Least Sandpipers are rarely seen on sandy beaches.

Least Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpipers

are easily spotted 🙂 because of, well, their SPOTS. Not much description needed here other than the adults have spots and the juveniles do not. They are a bit larger than the others previously mentioned, and they have yellow legs.

Spotted Sandpiper (Adult)
Spotted Sandpiper (Juvenile)

Purple Sandpipers

are not actually purple. They are more of a light lavender-brown color. They ONLY appear in the winter here in New England.

Flock of Purple Sandpipers
Purple Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpipers

are, well, solitary. They like to hang out by themselves on the edges of fresh water ponds, near forested areas. See below:

Solitary Sandpiper


Now this is where Sandpipers get really interesting and LARGE. These guys and gals are approximately DOUBLE the size of regular sandpipers! They prefer tidal marshes and mudflats near the ocean. They possess yellow legs and longer bills.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs

Short-billed Dowitchers

are the most interesting bird I have observed to date. They are also DOUBLE the size of a regular sandpiper and have long bills to probe deep into the mud.

Check out the SIZE of the Least Sandpiper on the left (below) and the Dowitcher on the right.

Some other birders and I were very lucky to see TWENTY Short-billed Dowitchers the other day on some mudflats. What a treat!

Hope you enjoyed this post. Happy Birding!

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  • David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2014.
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology websites, and

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