blog article by: Chris Petrak

Audubon knew this bird as the Sanderling Sandpiper. Somewhere along the line, the mavens of nomenclature decided this was redundant, and dropped “sandpiper” from its name. But the Sanderling is arguably the only “true” sandpiper.

The “piper” part of “sandpiper” seems to come from a word meaning “chirp,” or “peep,” hence sandpipers are “birds that chirp on the sand,” or “peep on the sand.” The Sanderling and its closest relatives (in the genus Calidris) are known among bird watchers as “peeps.”

The Sanderling (meaning “little bird of the sand”) is the only sandpiper which you will regularly find on sand - or sandy beaches. I went through the Kaufman guide for the habitats where we are most likely to see other Calidrissandpipers. Here’s what I found:

  • Least Sandpiper - edges of rivers, ponds, marshes
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper - mudflats
  • Western Sandpiper - open flats
  • Pectoral Sandpiper - grassy mudflats, flooded fields (the “grasspiper”)
  • White-rumped Sandpiper - flooded fields, marshy edges of mudflats
  • Baird’s Sandpiper - grassy mudflats, flooded fields
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper - short-grass plains, plowed fields
  • Dunlin - mudflats
  • Red Knot - tidal flats, sandy beaches
  • Purple Sandpiper - rocky coastlines, jetties
  • Spotted and Solitary Sandpiper (not genus Calidris) - along creeks and ponds

Most of these sandpipers will rest and sleep on sandy flats. On northbound migration, they feed on horseshoe crab eggs buried in the sandy beaches of the Delaware Bay. But their usual, preferred place for foraging, and where they are most often seen by the watchers of shorebirds, is not the sandy beach. Most would be more accurately termed “mudpipers.” But don’t expect any name changes in the near, or even distant, future. There is no requirement for accuracy in a common bird name.

The Sanderling is the exception. The Sanderling is a bird of the sand. It sleeps on sandy flats and forages at water’s edge on sandy beaches. It is a true “bird on the sand that peeps.”

The Sanderling is common, and it is very tempting to see it along a sandy beach - say to oneself, “Sanderling,” and go on to look for something else. But they merit leisurely watching. I stood watching them as the waves broke, spray flying. They were masters of timing - probing the sand, then nimbly running up the slope ahead of the water - then racing the water back down to grab new morsels stirred by the water’s action.

http://tailsofbirding.blogspot.com/2008/11/sanderling-true-sandpipe...

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Replies to This Discussion

Cool. Thanks, Steph. I like that. 'Little bird of the sand'. Thank you so much.

Such dainty birds. If she had a little finger and a cup and saucer of tea, she would hold the finger out as she sipped gently at her beverage. 

I love going to the coast to see these birds! They are beautiful!

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