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Rock Sandpiper

Calidris ptilocnemis

Length: 9 inches Wingspan: 17 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Long slightly drooped bill, gray upperparts with "scaled" back and wings in non-breeding plumage.  Breeding birds have obvious black belly-patch, and richer rufous coloring on the upperparts and neck.

Rock Sandpiper - Calidris ptilocnemisThe Rock Sandpiper and the Purple Sandpiper are closely related, and basically ecological equivalents of one another, with the Rock Sandpiper frequenting the west coast of North America, and the Purple Sandpiper found on the East Coast.  They are a fairly common sight on many rocky shorelines, rocky piers, and rocky jetties of the West Coast in the winter, where they can be seen climbing over the rocks near the waterline, searching for mollusks and crustaceans.

Habitat: Found on tundra during the summer breeding months, usually relatively barren tundra, free of stunted shrubs or other taller vegetation.  During winter and in migration, they are most often found on rocky shorelines.

Diet: Feeds mostly on insects on their summer breeding ground.  They also feed on crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, algae, berries, and seeds.

Behavior: Forages by moving deliberately on rocky shorelines or mudflats, picking up food with their bill.

Nesting: The nest of a Rock Sandpiper is scrape on the ground in a mossy area or area covered by lichen, with the nest lined with grasses, leaves, and lichen.  The female usually lays 4 eggs, and both parents usually help incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young leave the nest almost immediately, and find their own food.  Usually the male alone tends to the young and protects them after they hatch.

Song: Flight call is a hoarse keech

Migration: Birds that nest in the Aleutian Islands or the Pribilofs are permanent residents.  Birds that breed on the mainland move southward along the west coast of North America, as far south as California.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Rock Sandpiper sightings

Similar Species: Very similar to the East Coast's Purple Sandpiper, but the range of those two species do not intersect.  Could also be confused with the Surfbird, or Dunlin.

Conservation Status: Populations are spread over a relatively wide geographic region, and they are common in parts of their range.  Overall population trends seem to be decreasing, but the IUCN currently lists the Rock Sandpiper as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) BirdLife International - Rock Sandpiper

2) - Rock Sandpiper

3) Audubon - Rock Sandpiper

Photo Information: Photo taken by Alan Wilson -  St. Paul Island, Alaska - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Rock Sandpiper - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Rock Sandpiper Photos (coming soon!!)