Western Sandpiper 2019
Revised from the original September 16, 2014, post.
by Andy Griswold, EcoTravel Director
Where to find it: The Coastal Center at Milford Point has produced five Western Sandpipers this week (the week of July 15, 2019). Numerous in its range, Western Sandpiper is considered a vagrant in Connecticut, with about half a dozen sightings each year.
What it looks like: A member of the group of sandpipers referred to as “peeps,” Western Sandpiper is a relatively small sandpiper with a short neck. It usually has a longer bill than its cousin the Semipalmated Sandpiper, with a slight droop, and a slightly longer-legged appearance. The black center of the rump and tail helps to separate it from White-rumped Sandpiper. Legs are black, unlike Least Sandpiper’s short, yellow-green legs. Its gray-brown back with some reddish helps in separating it from the grayer Semipalmated.
Juvenile birds are similar to adults, but with a more scaly pattern on their backs. Many, if not most, of the individuals we see here in Connecticut are young birds. Key in on this scaly appearance and longer, slightly drooping beak.
How to find it: In addition to Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center, Sandy Point in West Haven is a good place to look. Any place where shorebirds congregate, this species is a possibility. Search at Hammonasset Beach State Park and other coastal flats. This bird does make appearances at inland sites where lakes and reservoirs have exposed mud flats.
What if it isn’t there: Western Sandpiper characteristically hangs around with other peeps including Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers. Other species like Red Knot and Pectoral Sandpiper (also at Milford Point this week), White-rumped Sandpiper, and Sanderling should not be far away.
Conservation status: The Western Sandpiper is by no means uncommon as it stages in huge, impressive flocks, primarily along the Pacific coast from San Francisco Bay to the Copper River Delta in Alaska. As many as 6,500,000 individuals use the Copper River Delta during the short spring migration. The bird’s breading range is relatively restricted, found nesting in coastal sedge-dwarf tundra along the Alaskan coast.
Photo by Alan Wilson, CarolinaBirds.org