Wood Sandpiper

Tringa glareola

The UKs breeding population of Wood Sandpipers are limited to an area of swampy marshland in the Highlands of northern Scotland, although they are far more commonly sighted in passage during their spring and autumn migrations as they make brief stopovers in southern and eastern England.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Pair of Wood Sandpipers feeding at wetlands

Pair of Wood Sandpipers feeding at wetlands

Wood Sandpiper perched on a tree branch calling out

Wood Sandpiper perched on a tree branch calling out

Appearance & Identification

What do Wood Sandpipers look like?

With mottled black-brown upper parts, dotted with white, and a white throat, wood sandpipers are similar in appearance to the related green sandpiper, but can be distinguished by their paler plumage and longer legs.

A dark brown eye stripe is topped by a paler eyebrow marking, and the iris has a pale ring. A wood sandpiper’s head, breast and neck are lightly streaked with paler greyish-brown. Their long slender legs are yellowish-green and their dark yellow bill is tipped with grey.

Females and males are alike in plumage, although females are slightly larger.

Outside of the breeding season, both sexes become less conspicuous, with upperparts becoming browner, and underparts and breast is washed with grey . Female wood sandpipers develop their breeding plumage slightly earlier in the season, which can be used as a key way to determine between the sexes.

Juvenile wood sandpipers are similar to mature birds, although their colouring is a slightly warmer, richer shade of brown, spotted with buff markings rather than white. The breast of younger birds is more grey than white.

Wood Sandpiper in its natural habitat

Wood Sandpiper in its natural habitat

How big are Wood Sandpipers?

Wood sandpipers are the smallest members of the shank family of long-legged wading birds.

Females are slightly larger than males, a difference that is particularly obvious during the breeding season.

  • Length: 19 cm to 21 cm (7.5 in to 8.3 in)
  • Wingspan: 36 cm to 40cm (14.2 in to 15.7 in)
  • Weight: 50 g to 90 g (1.8 oz to 3.2 oz)
Wood Sandpiper feeding along the edge of a river

Wood Sandpiper feeding along the edge of a river

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Wood Sandpiper make?

Flight calls of wood sandpipers are loud and repetitive, with the ‘deele’ and ‘tweedly’ notes carrying across long distances both in the day and during the night.

Common calls heard on the ground include a shrill ‘chiff-chiff-chiff’ cry.

Wood Sandpiper crying out

Wood Sandpiper crying out


What do Wood Sandpipers eat?

The typical diet of a wood sandpiper includes insects, worms, spiders, small fish, crustaceans and small aquatic invertebrates.

What do Wood Sandpiper chicks eat?

From a very early stage, wood sandpipers master the art of foraging for their own food, following their parents to feeding grounds and picking soft-bodied insects, larvae, spiders and worms off the earth’s surface.

Before long, they are able to eat harder-shelled crustaceans and snails as well.

Wood Sandpiper with an insect in its beak

Wood Sandpiper with an insect in its beak

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Wood Sandpiper?

As its name suggests, the wood sandpiper favours woodland environments, in particular boreal forest and coniferous woodlands, as well as peatlands and more open areas of swamp and marshland. Breeding wood sandpipers also thrive in scrubland and sparsely vegetated tundra landscapes.

In the non-breeding season, a woodland habitat becomes less important, with sightings more common in open marshland, paddy fields, sewage works, and along the edges of streams and lakes.

What is the range of a Wood Sandpiper?

Wood sandpipers are migratory, and have a breeding range that extends across Europe from northern Scotland in the west to Scandinavia and Finland in the north, throughout Russia to SIberia to the east, and occasionally south as far as Poland and Ukraine.

Wintering grounds are found along the banks of the Nile through Egypt and Sudan, and across the entire African continent south of the Sahara. Winter populations also head to parts of the Middle East and South and South-East Asia.

Where do Wood Sandpipers live?

The European population of breeding wood sandpipers is estimated at up to 1.4 million pairs, with the majority of these nesting in Russia (up to 1 million pairs). Finland reported an estimated 300,000 pairs in the 1980s, although numbers have since declined. Around 50,000 to 100,000 pairs breed in Sweden, with a further 20,000 to 40,000 pairs in Norway.

Wood Sandpiper in-flight

Wood Sandpiper in-flight

How rare are Wood Sandpipers?

Within the UK, wood sandpipers are classed as rare breeding birds and are not commonly seen during the summer.

Sightings are more common during passage, but are not regular or guaranteed, so would definitely count as exceptional occurrence.

Where can you see Wood Sandpipers in the UK?

Up to 30 pairs of wood sandpipers breed in the UK each year, but these are limited to a small area of marshy land in the western Highlands of Scotland.

Sightings during migration are far more common, and have been regularly recorded in eastern and southern England from April to May and again from September to October.

Pair of Wood Sandpipers during the mating season

Pair of Wood Sandpipers during the mating season

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Wood Sandpipers live?

The oldest recorded wood sandpiper lived to 11 years and 7 months. No reliable data is available for the average life expectancy of the species, although breeding is known to occur from one year onwards.

What are the predators of Wood Sandpipers?

Known predators of wood sandpipers include foxes, weasels, gulls, skuas, and birds of prey, in particular falcons and hawks. They are commonly observed to use a ‘broken wing’ distraction technique when predators approach to divert attention from their nest site.

Are Wood Sandpipers protected?

In the UK, wood sandpipers are designated Schedule 1 birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which protects their eggs and nest sites against being destroyed or damaged, as well as making it illegal to kill, injure or capture individual birds.

Are Wood Sandpipers endangered?

Numbers of wood sandpipers have declined since the 1980s in many parts of their range, largely due to drainage of peatlands for construction and development. However, in some areas, population revivals are being noticed, due in part by conservation efforts to restore previously drained marshlands to their original state.

They are classified as Amber in the British Birds of Conservation Concern list but as a species of least concern in their wider global range.

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Wood Sandpipers nest?

Wood sandpipers usually nest in shallow scrapes on the ground that are lined with moss, leaves and plant stems, concealed by dense vegetation.

Higher altitude nests are also common, with wood sandpipers frequently observed to reuse tree nests that have been abandoned by other species, including thrushes and fieldfares.

When do Wood Sandpipers nest?

Breeding typically takes place between May and mid-July with wood sandpipers usually raising one single brood a year. Incubation lasts for 22 to 23 days and is shared between females and males.

What do Wood Sandpiper eggs look like?

Wood sandpipers’ eggs are a pale greenish-olive colour, with brown, black or purple scrawls. They measure 38 mm by 24 mm (1.5 in by 0.9 in).

Do Wood Sandpipers mate for life?

Wood sandpipers form monogamous pair bonds for the length of a season and arrive on their breeding grounds already paired. They typically raise one brood together, with the male doing most of the parental care post-hatching. Once young have successfully fledged, pair bonds dissolve and do not last into the autumn migration.

Nest of a Wood Sandpiper with three eggs

Nest of a Wood Sandpiper with three eggs


Are Wood Sandpipers aggressive?

An aggressive and territorial species, wood sandpipers can frequently be seen physically defending their feeding territories against other birds of the same species, with face-offs and confrontational flight displays.

Territorial behaviour is also observed during migration when individual birds quickly establish a claim to a foraging site and do not welcome company.

Where do Wood Sandpipers sleep at night?

Overnight roosting spots of wood sandpipers include raised hillocks in flooded meadows, as well as in the low branches of trees.

Group of Wood Sandpipers in wetlands

Group of Wood Sandpipers in wetlands


Do Wood Sandpipers migrate?

Wood sandpipers are a fully migratory species, breeding across northern Europe and Asia, before returning to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, along the River Nile in Egypt and Sudan, and across much of South and South-East Asia.

Are Wood Sandpipers native to the UK?

Some limited breeding of wood sandpipers does occur in the UK, although by autumn, pairs have departed for their wintering grounds across southern and central Africa.

No wood sandpipers are resident in Britain all year round. Passage birds may be seen in migration in southern and eastern regions during the late spring and again between August and October, but these are temporary visitors en-route to their winter territories from breeding sites in northern Europe.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Tringa glareola


Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes

Conservation status:




19cm to 21cm


36cm to 40cm


50g to 90g

Learn more about the Wood Sandpiper

Other birds in the Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes family

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