Western Sandpiper

Calidris mauri
Range Map

The Western Sandpiper breeds on Alaska’s west coast, from the Alaskan Peninsula to the Beaufort Sea. They fly south in winter to the southern USA, the east and west coasts of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Most of these birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway, especially during their spring journey north. But their fall migration south finds a portion of their population travelling through the continental interior.

These birds have one of the biggest populations of all shorebirds. When they gather, especially at staging stops during migration, the spectacle of their flocks numbering in the hundreds, or thousands, the resulting murmurating flights can be overwhelming.

Western Sandpipers nest in the tundra, often under cover of some vegetation. After the female lays her clutch of eggs, both parents incubate. After hatching, the female usually leaves the breeding grounds, leaving the male to care for the young.

Peeps are busy little foragers that specialize in shallow shorelines and boggy mudflats. They can be very entertaining to watch. I’ve found they will scurry away when approached, but by sitting quietly, they often will return to feed, and provide an opportunity to capture images.

Most of my photo-ops with Western Sandpipers have been in California. There, I’ve met them along the full length of the state, from San Diego to Crescent City, not only on the Pacific Coast, but inland as far as the Salton Sea, and at Mono Lake, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In winter, they might show up anywhere on the west coast. Coastal Oregon has also given me some lovely encounters with these birds.

Science regards Western Sandpipers as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

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