Delicate-looking with a beautiful variegated pattern, the Western Sandpiper is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most recognizable shorebirds. Growing no more than 7 inches in length, the birds can be spotted running quickly along the intertidal zone of the beach. They may gather in flocks numbering in the hundreds, especially while migrating.
The bird’s back and crown are rust-red with dark spots during the spring and summer. The spots lighten to gray in the winter months. The chest and belly are white with small triangular-shaped speckles. The sandpiper has a long bill which is slightly curved downward at the end, making it an effective tool for pulling insects, arachnids and crustaceans out of the sand and woody debris.
Females may lay up to five eggs per year in shallow nests in the sand which are dug by males. Chicks can hatch in about three weeks. The sandpiper young are independent shortly after hatching and are usually quickly left by the parents to fend for themselves.
The Western Sandpiper’s summer breeding grounds are in Alaska, although it winters on the West Coast from Oregon to Peru. During the breeding season, it can usually be found in coastal tundra. During the winter, it prefers to stay around mudflats, beaches, estuaries, lakes and ponds.