Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos



This species is smaller than the Redshank; it is full-bodied and its tail may look disproportionately long as it goes beyond the wings. Upperparts are grey-brown with dark-centred feathers on the back and wings. The underparts are white and there is a distinct demarcation between them and the dark breast; the head is smallish, the neck short, the legs short and greenish, and the straight bill is medium-length. When flying, the wings have a white bar, and the rump is dark but with white on either side. Juveniles resemble adults, but the tips of the wing feathers are paler buff, giving a scaly impression across the shoulders.


Breeding territories include swift hill streams and rivers, and the margins of lakes, lochs and reservoirs. During winter, birds frequent lowland freshwater locations such as gravel pits, banks of lakes and rivers and small sheltered estuaries.


It often holds itself horizontal to the ground and it wiggles the rump and tail up and down. Usually flies low, often close to surface of water, and its wings are rigid and bowed. Has a slightly hunched feeding posture, and has a characteristic bob, particularly when just landed or when something has caught its interest; capable of diving when it feels threatened. Most often solitary when not in breeding season.


Diet includes insects such as flies and their larvae, beetles, earwigs, grasshoppers, spiders, worms, freshwater shrimps and small fish.


Males and females both create nest-scrapes, and the female chooses one of these in which to lay 3-5 eggs. Both of the parents incubate the clutch for approximately 21 days. Hatchlings have a layer of down, and their parents tend to them until they're able to fly (after about 27 days).


Adult passage migrants are most numerous in the region during July and August, while September brings majority of the juveniles. Approximately 15 000 pairs breed in the UK and 1000-2000 in Ireland; about 70 birds spend winter in the region.

Observation Tips

These birds are most numerous in Scotland, but the north of England and Wales, and the northwest of Ireland are also strongholds. Look for these birds bobbing beside streams and lakes in populated regions.


Has a piercing 'tswee-wee-wee' call which it usually makes during flight or when alarmed.
Back to Bird Index