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
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.
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
Sandpipers are primarily carnivores. The majority of a sandpiper’s diet consists of small invertebrates, including clams, other crustaceans, worms, and insects.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Sandpipers eat a variety of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, flies, mayflies, and midges.
Most sandpiper species are primarily carnivores. However, some do forage for seeds, grains, berries, and tender plant shoots.
Along with insects and crustaceans, sandpipers will also eat plant matter. Seeds, grains, rice, berries, and plant shoots are all commonly consumed vegetation.
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
Sandpipers do eat periwinkles, a species of sea snail. Small mollusks make up a considerable portion of this shorebird's diet.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sandpipers are unlikely to eat jellyfish. They are generally too large for these small birds to consume.
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.
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