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Calidris alba

Length: 8 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Black smudge on shoulder, strong white wing stripe, black legs, sturdy black bill

Sanderling - Calidris albaThe Sanderling is a common sight on U.S. coastlines in the winter, moving up and down sandy beaches in advance and retreat of waves (see photo to the right).  They strongly prefer sandy beaches in the winter, and their pale plumage often matches the pale sand on which they forage.  Individual birds often return to the same wintering sites each year.  Destruction or heavy human use of winter beach habitat has resulted in sharp declines in recent decades.


In summer, found on dry rocky tundra close to ponds and lakes.  At other seasons, they are generally found on sandy beaches and occasionally on rocky coastlines.


On summer breeding grounds, primarily feeds on insects and insect larvae, as well as some vegetation.  In winter and in migrations, feeds on sand crabs, small mollusks and crustaceans, amphipods, isopods, and marine worms.  In spring, they often stopover to feed heavily on horseshoe crab eggs.  They have also learned to eat human food that has been discarded.


Non-breeder in South Dakota.  In breeding range, the nest of a Sanderling is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with bits of vegetation.  The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young quickly leave the nest and feed themselves, but are usually tended by both parents.  Sometimes only one parent tends the young.  The young typically fledge by about 18 days.


 The most often heard vocalization is a soft kweep call note. 


Summers in the high Arctic.  Winters along all coastlines of the U.S. and southward.  Also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, and they can be found nearly worldwide in the winter.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Sanderling sightings

Similar Species:

With their very pale, ghostly winter (non-breeding plumage), and their rich, chestnut-colored breeding plumage, identifying Sanderlings is more straightforward than many other small shorebird species that could be fond in South Dakota. Here are the other shorebird species that could potentially be confused with a Sanderling:

Dunlin 9 - Calidris alpina Least Sandpiper 12 - Calidris minutilla Semipalmated Sandpiper 3 - Calidris pusilla Red Knot - Calidris canutus 
Dunlin Least Sandpiper Semipalmated Sandpiper Red Knot

Conservation Status:

Systematic surveys in the last few decades have estimated generally stable populations of Sanderlings. They are still found over a very wide geographic area, they are common in parts of their range, and overall populations are strong.  The IUCN lists the Sanderling as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

December 9th, 2011 - Pacific Coast near San Francisco, California - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

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

Audio File Credits

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Sanderling - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.

Additional Sanderling Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Sanderling 1 - Calidris albaSanderling 2 - Calidris albaSanderling 3 - Calidris albaSanderling 4 - Calidris albaSanderling 5 - Calidris albaSanderling 6 - Calidris albaSanderling 7 - Calidris albaSanderling 8 - Calidris albaSanderling 9 - Calidris albaSanderling 10 - Calidris albaSanderling 11 - Calidris albaSanderling 12 - Calidris albaSanderling 13 - Calidris albaSanderling 14 - Calidris albaSanderling 15 - Calidris albaSanderling 16 - Calidris albaSanderling 17 - Calidris albaSanderling 18 - Calidris albaSanderling 19 - Calidris albaSanderling 20 - Calidris albaSanderling 21 - Calidris alba