Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla
Range Map

The Least Sandpiper is the smallest of the group we call peeps. Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers make up the rest of the Small Peeps group. These birds fly north each spring to breed in the far north of North America from Alaska to eastern Canada. After the breeding season, they roam south and spend the winter anywhere from coastal regions of the USA and south to northern South America and even as far as Chile.

Of the three classic peeps, this bird’s legs are greenish yellow (unless covered in mud), distinguishing it from the black legs of the Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers. We can find them in either salt or freshwater environments, but of these three peeps, it is the most likely to be met in freshwater habitats. Least Sandpipers weigh in at one ounce and are the smallest shorebird in the world.

Both parents incubate, but most of the child-rearing falls to the males. According to researchers, females commonly leave the breeding grounds before the young fledge, and sometimes before the eggs hatch.

In the USA, I’ve met these birds in California, Oregon and Texas. Outside of the lower forty-eight, I found them 600 miles off the coast of Colima (Mexico) on Isla Socorro, and on their breeding grounds in the Yukon Territory of northern Canada.

Today’s science regards the Least Sandpiper as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

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