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Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla

Length: 6 inches Wingspan: 11 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Tiny size, pale yellow legs, slightly decurved bill

Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpipers are the the smallest of the "peeps", the small sandpipers that migrate through the state. Indeed, they are generally considered the smallest shorebird in the world. Despite their tiny size, they are long-distance migration champs, with many birds making a non-stop flight from southeastern Canada or then northeastern US to wintering grounds in northeastern South America. The most common of the small sandpipers to migrate through South Dakota, a primary identification key are the pale yellow legs, as the other peeps have dark legs.

Habitat:

During migration, Least Sandpipers are found on mudflats, shallow marshes, flooded fields, and shorelines. On their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada, they are found on boggy tundra and wet meadows.

Diet:

Variable but primarily consists of insects and other small invertebrates such as snails, spiders, or small worms. They sometimes supplement their diet with the seeds of wetland grasses.

Behavior:

Primarily forages on mudflats and shorelines, picking up food items from the ground, occasionally by probing in the mud with its bill.

Breeding:

Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska, Least Sandpipers nest on the ground, building a shallow scrap on a tuft of higher or drier grass in wetland areas. The male builds multiple scrapes, with the female inspecting them and making the final choice of nesting location. She lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them. The eggs hatch after about 3 weeks. The young leave the nest within a day or two of hatching and must feed themselves, but the male typically stays nearby and protects them.

Song:

High thin keee-eeet is the most common vocalization heard as they migrate through the United States. Breeding males in Alaska and Canada have a surprisingly complex series of trilled and warbling notes.

1Click here to hear alarm calls of a Least Sandpiper near a nest, recorded on the North Slope of Alaska.

2Click here to hear the song of a male Least Sandpiper, recorded near Nome, Alaska.

3Click here to hear the simple calls of a Least Sandpiper, recorded in New Brunswick.

Migration:

Many winter in the Southern United States and near the US coastlines, while others migrate as far away as northern South America.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Least Sandpiper sightings

Similar Species:

Least Sandpipers can easily be confused with the other "peeps"...the small sandpipers...that migrate through the state. Compared to the other similarly sized sandpipers, the yellow legs are unique. Species most likely to be confused with the Least Sandpiper include the following:

Conservation Status:

Populations are undoubtedly lower than they were historically, prior to European settlement of the continent. Populations have also been in decline in the last several decades. However, they are still relatively common, have strong overall populations, and are found across a very broad geographic area. The IUCN considers the Least Sandpiper to be a species of "least concern".

Further Information:

1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Least Sandpiper

2) WhatBird - Least Sandpiper

3) Audubon Guide - Least Sandpiper

Photo Information:

May 14th, 2004 -- Madison Waterfowl Production Area -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Least Sandpiper photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Andrew Spencer, XC203604. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/203604.

2Peter Boesman, XC322794. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/322794.

3Martin St-Michel, XC145676. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/145676

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Least Sandpiper - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.

Additional Least Sandpiper Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Least Sandpiper 1 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 2 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 3 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 4 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 5 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 6 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 7 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 8 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 9 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 10 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 11 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 12 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 13 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 14 - Calidris minutillaLeast Sandpiper 15 - Calidris minutilla