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Semipalmated Sandpiper

Calidris pusilla

Length: 6.5 inches Wingspan: 12 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Short straight bill with relatively blunt tip, black legs, upperparts grayer than similar Western Sandpiper.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpipers are named for the slight webbing between their toes.  One of the so-called "peeps" (tiny sandpipers), they are nonetheless champion long-distance migrants, often traveling for 2,000 miles non-stop from eastern North America to their wintering grounds in South America.  Once a abundant bird, populations declined sharply in the 19th and 20th centuries due to direct hunting and loss of habitat. Numbers started to rebound in the latter half of the 20th century but have again started declining precipitously, due to exploitation and direct hunting, as well as environmental and habitat influences (see below).


Found on open mudflats and edges of shallow lakes and wetlands during migration through the state.


Feeds on a variety of small insects and crustaceans.  Will also feed on small mollusks, worms, and occasionally seeds.


Primarily forages on mudflats, beaches, or very shallow water, walking along and searching for prey.  They will also occasionally probe in the mud with their bill.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds in the Arctic, the nest is a shallow scrap on the ground, lined with grasses. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them. Incubation lasts about three weeks, with the young fledging after another 2 to 3 weeks. The female usually abandons responsibility for raising the young about 3-5 days after hatching.


Semipalmated Sandpipers give a rolling, trilling call of ascending and descending tones, most often heard on its summer breeding grounds.  The flight call is a short chirp.

Migration: Extremely long distance migrants, with summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, and its wintering grounds in South America.

Interactive eBird Map:

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

Similar Species:

One of multiple "peeps" that migrate through the state that have a similar size and structure. Semipalmated Sandpipers are most likely to be confused with the following species:

Least Sandpiper 12 - Calidris minutilla Least Sandpiper 14 - Calidris minutilla Sanderling - Calidris alba Sanderling - Calidris alba
Least Sandpiper Least Sandpiper Sanderling (Breeding) Sanderling (non-breeding)

Conservation Status:

Numbers are in decline in the last 20 years, with a number of potential causes. Thousands are killed by hunters on their wintering grounds in northern South America, with hunting in Suriname identified as being particularly egregious. In the United States, harvesting of horseshoe crabs has removed a vital food source as the birds move northward in the spring, likely resulting in reduced breeding condition. Pesticide use has also been linked to the decline, as has an exploding population of Snow Geese and Ross's Geese, species which has strongly impacted habitats on the breeding grounds of the Semipalmated Sandpiper. Overall, populations have been documented as declining by up to 80% just from the early 1980s to the present time. Overall populations are still strong but declining quickly, and due to the decline, the IUCN has designated the Semipalmated Sandpiper to be a species that is "Near Threatened".

Further Information:

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 Semipalmated Sandpiper photos.

Audio File Credits:

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

Additional Semipalmated Sandpiper Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Semipalmated Sandpiper 1 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 2 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 3 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 4 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 5 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 6 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 7 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 8 - Calidris pusillaSemipalmated Sandpiper 9 - Calidris pusilla