What Do Sandpipers Eat? (Full Diet, Habits & Behavior)

The sandpiper is a type of shorebird in the Scolopacidae family. There are several different species within this family, but many share the same or similar diet and foraging habitats.

But what do these birds eat, and what are their habits? Let's get into it, what do sandpipers eat?

Most sandpiper species eat insects, crustaceans, and other coastal or wetland creatures. Common food items include flies, mayflies, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, snails, crabs, and shrimp. Occasionally, the sandpiper will eat seeds, berries, grains, and plant shoots. This generally only occurs when primary food sources are scarce.

As ground foragers, these shorebirds largely glean food from the surface or probe beneath the mud and wet sand. They have a variety of foraging tactics that help them find their next meal. To learn more about the sandpiper’s diet and how they find food, read on!

Common sandpiper eating small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil

Common sandpiper eating small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil

What do sandpipers eat on the beach?

Sandpipers are often seen foraging on the beach with bills buried in the wet sand or gleaning food from the water’s surface. They consume a variety of insects and other small invertebrates, including flies, beetles, snails, worms, crabs, clams, and shrimp. These shorebirds also enjoy eating biofilm, a layer of nutritious slime that builds up on wet, sandy shores.

How do sandpipers find food?

Sandpipers are primarily ground feeders with a variety of foraging tactics. Some species glean prey from the surface or catch insects mid-flight. Others wade through shallow water, catching prey by scooping it up in their beaks. However, the most common feeding tactic sandpipers use involves probing into wet mud or sand with their beaks in search of insects, worms, or crustaceans.

Close up of a common Sandpiper foraging for food

Close up of a common Sandpiper foraging for food

Do Sandpipers eat clams?

Sandpipers are primarily carnivores. The majority of a sandpiper’s diet consists of small invertebrates, including clams, other crustaceans, worms, and insects.

How do sandpipers eat clams?

Sandpipers eat clams by using their bills to open the shell, then picking out the meat on the interior. Their short bills are highly adept at picking meat from hard-shelled organisms.

Close up of a sandpiper eating a clam on the beach

Close up of a sandpiper eating a clam on the beach

What time of day do sandpipers feed?

Sandpipers primarily feed throughout the day. Although, they will also forage at night when the moon is bright.

They are active intermittently throughout the day and night. On particularly warm days, these shorebirds are likely to sleep more while the sun is up and become more active at dusk and dawn.

What do sandpipers eat in the winter?

The winter diet of a sandpiper varies based on location. In coastal habitats, crustaceans such as crabs, shrimp, and clams are most commonly consumed. On the other hand, sandpipers wintering inland will eat more insects, worms, and freshwater crustaceans.

Close up of a foraging Curlew Sandpiper

Close up of a foraging Curlew Sandpiper

What do sandpipers eat in the summer?

In summer, sandpipers have a highly varied diet. Most species eat insects and other small invertebrates, including flies, beetles, spiders, snails, crabs, shrimp, and clams. Some sandpipers will also eat plant matter, including seeds, grains, and plant shoots.

What do baby sandpipers eat?

Baby sandpipers feed themselves. Shortly after hatching, the chicks will follow their parents, picking up primarily insects, worms, and spiders.

Soft-bodied organisms make the majority of their diet in the early stages. Once the young are strong enough, they begin to eat hard-shelled invertebrates.

Close up of a young sandpiper chick

Close up of a young sandpiper chick

What can I feed a sandpiper?

If sandpipers are visiting your yard, they are likely finding enough natural forage, such as worms, crickets, grasshoppers, and flies. However, if you find an injured individual or would like to provide a little excess food for these shorebirds, you can offer small, freeze-dried, or fresh-frozen invertebrates.

Do sandpipers feed on the ground?

Sandpipers primarily feed on the ground. They will pick up food items from the surface or probe their bills under mud or wet sand. The sandpiper will also catch insects out of the air or wade into shallow water to forage.

One sandpiper eating a fish, whilst the other one watches

One sandpiper eating a fish, whilst the other one watches

What do sandpipers drink?

Little is known about how sandpipers get most of their hydration. Many shorebirds have special glands that desalinate saltwater and, thus, can drink without needing to find a freshwater source.

Are sandpipers herbivores?

Most sandpiper species are carnivores. They survive primarily on small invertebrates, such as insects, worms, snails, crabs, and shrimp. However, some species do occasionally eat grains, berries, and seeds.

Close up of a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) eating in shallow water in Galveston County, Texas, United States

Close up of a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) eating in shallow water in Galveston County, Texas, United States

How do I attract sandpipers to my yard?

Sandpipers prefer intertidal habitats, such as mudflats, and wet, open grasslands. If you live near a coastline or wetland, you may be able to attract these birds to your yard.

Since sandpipers are primarily ground feeders with diets centered around insects and crustaceans, they will not come to feeders. Only certain species of sandpipers feed on seeds and grains - typically when other food sources are scarce.

You can provide small live, freeze-dried, or fresh-frozen insects and crustaceans to draw these birds to your home. However, if your property contains some of their natural habitats, they may come on their own.

A small flock of Sanderlings (Sandpipers) on the beach

A small flock of Sanderlings (Sandpipers) on the beach

Sandpiper Diet FAQs

What insects do sandpipers eat?

Sandpipers eat a variety of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, flies, mayflies, and midges.

Do Sandpipers eat plants?

Most sandpiper species are primarily carnivores. However, some do forage for seeds, grains, berries, and tender plant shoots.

What plants do sandpipers eat?

Along with insects and crustaceans, sandpipers will also eat plant matter. Seeds, grains, rice, berries, and plant shoots are all commonly consumed vegetation.

Do sandpipers eat seeds?

Sandpipers do occasionally eat seeds. However, most of their diets consist of insects, worms, snails, crabs, clams, and shrimp.

A group of Western Sandpipers eating together in a muddy estuary

A group of Western Sandpipers eating together in a muddy estuary

Do sandpipers eat periwinkles?

Sandpipers do eat periwinkles, a species of sea snail. Small mollusks make up a considerable portion of this shorebird's diet.

Do sandpipers eat sand crabs?

Sandpipers frequently eat sand crabs and other small crustaceans. These birds often find sand crabs by probing their bills beneath the surface of wet sand.

Do sandpipers eat beach hoppers?

Beach hoppers, sometimes referred to as sand fleas, are commonly consumed by sandpipers. These prey items are not insects, despite what their common name implies. They are actually small crustaceans related to shrimp.

Do sandpipers eat hermit crabs?

Sandpipers do eat hermit crabs, along with a plethora of other small invertebrates commonly found along shorelines.

Close up of a Sanderling eating a small crab

Close up of a Sanderling eating a small crab

Do sandpipers eat fish?

Sandpipers occasionally eat small fish or fish carrion. These food items are consumed more opportunistically. They are not sought out as frequently as insects and crustaceans.

Do sandpipers eat jellyfish?

Sandpipers are unlikely to eat jellyfish. They are generally too large for these small birds to consume.

What do Florida sandpipers eat?

Like other sandpiper species, the Florida sandpiper primarily eats crustaceans, insects, worms, snails, and other coastal animals that are small enough for them to consume.

Expert Q + A

Ask a question

Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.

Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered.

You may also like

Get the good stuff

Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox