Stilt Sandpiper

Calidris himantopus
Range Map

Other than the gulf coast of Texas and southern Florida, where a few Stilt Sandpipers spend the winter, we will only see these birds in the USA during migrations. A small portion of the population spends the winter in Mexico, Central America and the western coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, but most of these birds migrate to the South American interior when the breeding season is over. In spring, they all migrate to the northern limits of the North American continent, including the Arctic coast of Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and some birds breed on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay.

When early ornithologist first met the Stilt Sandpiper, they saw a long-legged bird with partially webbed toes, and a long bill with an expanded tip, so they placed it in the genus Micropalama, even though these traits lined up with other’s in the sandpiper clan (genus Calidris). Then observers noticed it foraged, not on mudflats, like typical sandpipers, but while wading up to their bellies in shallow water. They believed it fit in with the Yellowlegs (genus Tringa), some even believing it was some kind of blend of dowitcher and yellowlegs. Folks gave these birds names such as Bastard Yellowlegs, Stilted Sandpiper, Mongrel, Long-legged Sandpiper, and Frost Snipe.

The first Stilt Sandpiper I met was in San Diego (California) in late July 2013, when an out-of-place bird stopped to spend some time at the South Bay. It was most likely headed south after breeding in Alaska. Later, in the spring of 2020, I met them again in south Texas, where they may have spent the winter, or were moving north to breed in the high Arctic.

Taxonomists classify the Stilt Sandpiper as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

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