Belonging to a group of birds generally called waders or shorebirds, the common sandpiper prefers freshwater habitats as opposed to saltwater locations.
19cm to 21cm
32cm to 35cm
40g to 60g
Unlike many waders, at first glance, the common sandpiper appears to be a relatively portly bird with its round almost oval body and short legs. The bird has bright white underparts and medium brown upper parts and head which darken and become mottled during the winter. Whilst the upper chest can appear greyish in colour the sides of the chest mirror the colour of the upper body. It has a fairly long dark tail edged in white and a single white wing bar above. The underside of the wing is unusually patterned with both white and brown wing bars. When the wings are folded a white crescent shaped patch is apparent on the body just in front of the wing, extending upwards. The bill is straight and dark at the tip with a pale base and its legs have a greenish hue. Strikingly there is a very pale circle in the plumage around each eye and a dark stripe, also in the plumage, which follows the line of the bill and crosses the eye. Both adults are similar although the female is slightly larger.
A loud, high pitched and lengthened ‘tew’ sound often repeated in bursts of three, identifies the common sandpiper.
The diet of the common sandpiper is mainly confined to molluscs, insects and worms which it catches whilst foraging along the water’s edge in a lolling motion, swinging its tail up and down as it goes.
Common Sandpiper wading through the mud
The common sandpiper is an early migrant to the UK arriving in late March and early April. Whilst many remain here and breed, others passage through from northern Europe en route to West Africa. A small number winter along our south coast and an even smaller number are permanent residents around lakes and rivers in the north west of England. Whilst those passing through en route to warmer climes will often choose estuaries or rocky sea shores to rest and feed, these birds normally prefer fresh water and will select fast-flowing riverside locations and lakes/lochs for their nesting and feeding sites. Those birds that come here to breed will depart from late June through to early October.
The unmistakable bobbing and swinging motion coupled with its oval body shape, which is accentuated as it forages for food at the water’s edge, helps to positively identify this bird. They are rarely spotted in large groups and are unique from other waders with their distinctive under wing brown/grey and white wing bars. They can often be seen flying low over the water
Nesting generally takes place in grass lined scrapes or on grassy banks where, between the months of April through to July, one clutch of up to 4 eggs is laid and incubated by both parents.
Common Sandpiper nest with eggs
The common sandpiper has a life expectancy of up to ten years.