Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Jeff Nadler
Photo Copyright Jeff Nadler

The pectoral sandpiper, Calidris melanotos, is a wading bird that breeds on wet marshy tundra along the circumpolar region, and winters in southern South America. Large numbers of birds migrate southward through central North America to reach their wintering grounds. Northward migrations also occur through central North America, with greater numbers seen in the west than during the spring migration. Individuals migrating from the extremes of the range may fly 30,000 km round-trip in one year. Pectoral sandpiper numbers have reduced considerably during the past century, presumably due to losses of wetland feeding and roosting sites along migratory routes, as well as to disturbances at wintering grounds. In Utah, the pectoral sandpiper is an uncommon migrant statewide.

The pectoral sandpiper wades in shallow water probing the mud and sand for aquatic insects, spiders, worms, and seeds. Males establish territories shortly after arriving on the breeding grounds, and begin advertising displays as soon as the females arrive. Males have two sacs beneath the skin in the throat, which when filled with air, can emit a very loud sound during the courtship display. Females spend a few days investigating male's territories before choosing a nest site. A male will court and mate with any female that enters its territory. The female finds a depression in the tundra and then constructs a nest within it, which she lines with grass, moss, and lichen. The female incubates her clutch of four eggs for about three weeks; the male departs the breeding grounds before the eggs hatch. The young are able to walk and find their own food within hours of hatching, but they are still dependent on their mother's body heat to keep them warm for the first several days. The mother cares for the young for 10 to 20 days after hatching, and the chicks are able to fly when they are a month old.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Holmes, R. T., and F. A. Pitelka. 1998. Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos). Birds of North America 348.