Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Also known as: Eurasian sandpiper
Synonyms: Tringa hypoleucos
  
French: Chevalier guignette
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyScolopacidae
GenusActitis (1)
SizeLength: 19 - 21 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 38 - 41 cm (2) (3)
Weight33 - 84 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The common sandpiper is a rather small, short-legged wader with a long, straight beak, relatively drab colouration, and a distinctive ‘teetering’ behaviour, in which the head and the rear of the body are constantly bobbed up and down when the bird is standing or walking (2) (4). The head, upper breast and upperparts are greenish-brown with delicate dark streaking, contrasting with the white underparts. A white eye-ring is visible up close and the legs are greenish-grey. The common sandpiper has a distinctive flight, with rapid, shallow wing beats on stiff, curved wings, and in flight a striking white wingbar is visible (2) (4).

Outside of the breeding season, common sandpipers are duller in colour, with faintly barred olive-brown upperparts and less streaking on the head, while juveniles resemble the non-breeding adult, but have more heavy buff barring on the upperparts. Female common sandpipers average slightly larger than the males (2). This species closely resembles the spotted sandpiper, Actitis macularia, but is slightly larger, with a longer tail, slightly longer, straighter beak, darker legs, and a more obvious wingbar in flight (2) (3). The calls of the common sandpiper include a shrill, three-note twee-see-see, given when the bird takes off, while the song is a high, rapid titti-weeti, titti-weeti (4).

The breeding range of the common sandpiper extends from Europe, east across central Asia, to Kamchatka and Sakhalin, Russia, and Japan. A migratory species, its winter range extends from Western Europe and Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, to Indonesia and Australia (2) (5). Individuals are also occasionally recorded outside the normal range, for example in the United States, Iceland, New Zealand, and on Western Pacific islands (2) (3) (5).

During the breeding season, the common sandpiper commonly inhabits the edges of water bodies, particularly the pebbly, sandy or rocky margins of rivers, as well as ponds, pools, lake shores, dams, estuaries and sheltered sea coasts. Foraging often takes place in grassland and dry meadows (2) (5) (6). In its winter range, the species occurs in a wide variety of habitats, from coastal shores, estuaries and salt marshes, to inland wetlands, riverbanks, pools, and even sewage works. It will also forage in grassland along roadsides and in urban areas, but generally avoids large coastal mudflats, as well as frozen, snow-covered or very hot areas (2) (4) (5).

The common sandpiper has a varied diet, feeding on a range of insects, spiders, molluscs, crustaceans and annelid worms, as well as occasionally taking tadpoles, adult frogs and toads, small fish and some plant material, such as seeds (2) (5) (6). However, studies have shown the winter diet in some areas to comprise mainly marine invertebrates, and not many insects (7). The common sandpiper usually forages during the day, alone or sometimes in small groups, with prey commonly taken from the surface, rather than by probing into mud (2). At night, groups of over 100 individuals may come together to roost (2) (5).

A monogamous species, the common sandpiper breeds between May and June, nesting in scattered single pairs (2) (5). The nest is a shallow depression in the ground, sometimes situated amongst shrubs and trees (2) (5), into which three to five (usually four) eggs are laid. The clutch is incubated by both the male and female, hatching after 21 to 22 days. The chicks are greyish-brown, with faint dark speckling on the back, and are tended by both adults, although one adult, often the female, usually leaves before the young fledge at 22 to 28 days (2). The common sandpiper migrates at night, either singly or in small flocks, with immature birds leaving the breeding grounds later than the adults, and often remaining on the wintering grounds during the first summer of life (2) (5). This species has been recorded living for up to 12 years in the wild (2).

The common sandpiper remains a widespread and abundant species, and as such is not currently considered at risk of extinction (5). However, declines have been noted in some areas, including in Europe (2) (5). In Britain, studies have shown a reduction in the common sandpiper population, although it is unclear whether the causes are related to climate change, changes in the species’ wintering habitats, or changes to stopover sites on its migration routes (8). In some parts of Britain, recreational anglers and other human visitors may be causing disturbance to breeding sandpipers, effectively reducing the size of the breeding population (9).

The common sandpiper is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (10), and is also listed on the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), which calls upon parties to undertake actions to help conserve bird species that are dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle (11). However, there are not currently known to be any conservation measures specifically targeted at this small, widespread wader.

For more information on the conservation of waders and other wetland birds see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. O’Brien, M., Crossley, R. and Karlson, K. (2006) The Shorebird Guide. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  5. BirdLife International (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3027&m=0
  6. Yalden, D.W. (1986) Diet, food availability and habitat selection of breeding common sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos. Ibis, 128(1): 23-26.
  7. Arcas, J. (2004) Dieta y selección de presas del andarríos chico Actitis hypoleucos durante el invierno. Ardeola, 51(1): 203-213.
  8. Dougall, T.W., Holland, P.K. and Yalden, D.W. (2010) The population biology of common sandpipers in Britain. British Birds, 103(2): 100-114.
  9. Yalden, D.W. (1992) The influence of recreational disturbance on common sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos breeding by an upland reservoir, in England. Biological Conservation, 61: 41-49.
  10. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (June, 2010)
    http://www.cms.int/
  11. Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (June, 2010)
    http://www.unep-aewa.org/