Sanderling

Calidris alba

20-21cm

Appearance

This is a small, stout, lively wader, a little bigger than the Dunlin. Its bill is short and straight, and its legs are black all year round. For majority of the year, the upperparts are mostly grey, the undeparts are white, and the head is mostly white. The breeding plumage is reddish-brown and mottled on the back, the undeparts remain white, and the head and neck are flushed reddish. Juvenile birds resemble winter adults, though their backs can appear more scaly due to the dark middle parts of some of their feathers. When flying, this species has a white bar on the wing and white patches surrounding a dark one on the rump.

Habitat

When in the region, it's usually found in coastal areas on sandy shores or estuaries. Breeding grounds are on the high Arctic tundra in close proximity to freshwater lakes.

Character

Feeds where waves lap sandy beaches, and runs rapidly with its head pulled in. May feed in groups or small flocks, and forms bigger flocks when migrating. The weight of a bird rises by 60% before migration, to ensure enough energy for the non-stop 5000km flight.

Food

Migrating diet includes small crabs, shrimps, shellfish, sandhoppers and marine worms. While on Arctic breeding grounds, it feeds on insects and some plant material.

Breeding

Not a breeding bird of Britain or Ireland. Females lay 4 eggs; she may make a second nest-scrape and lay another clutch. If so, she leaves first clutch for the male to incubate and tend to once hatched while she focusses on the second. Incubation lasts 23-27 days and the hatchlings can fly after about 17 days; they're quickly independent.

Population

A long-distance migrant and a locally common visitor in the region. They depart the region in May or June, although some non-breeding birds stay to spend the summer. The species has the largest numbers in Britain during May or August, and in Ireland the peak time is winter. Over 17 000 individuals spend winter in the UK and approximately 6000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Long, sandy beaches are the best places to find these birds, particularly in places of minimal human disturbance. May be seen associating the Turnstones at high tide as they forage along the beach.

Voice

Has a high-pitched 'plit', usually uttered when flying or when alarmed.
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