Calidris alba

The Sanderling is most commonly seen in flocks chasing receding waves on ocean beaches, and running away from them when they return. It breeds in the high Arctic and winters along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Canada to Argentina.

Interesting Information

  • The Sanderling is one of the most widespread wintering shorebirds in the world. It is found on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world. Among shorebirds, only the Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel rival its worldwide distribution.

  • The mating system of the Sanderling appears to vary among areas, and possibly also among years. It is predominantly monogamous, but occasionally the female lays eggs for several different males in quick succession.

  • It is common for nonbreeding individuals of Arctic-breeding shorebirds to remain on the wintering grounds through the summer. Why make that long trip if you're not going to breed anyway? Many Sanderlings remain in South America without breeding, but only small numbers remain along the North American coasts.


Adult Description

  • Size: 18-20 cm (7-8 in)

  • Wingspan: 35 cm (14 in)

  • Weight: 40-100 g (1.41-3.53 ounces)

  • Small pale sandpiper.

  • Broad white wingstripe bordered in black, visible in flight.

  • Bill black, short, stout, and straight.

  • Legs black.

  • Lacks a hind toe.

Breeding (Alternate) Plumage

Head, breast, and upperparts reddish brown, mottled with dark and light. Belly white.

Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage

Head and back pale gray. Face white. Underparts clean white. Dark shoulder patch.

Sex Differences

Sexes look similar, with male averaging brighter.


Juvenile similar to nonbreeding adult, but mottled black and white on back. Usually with buffy patch on sides of breast, streaked with fine black markings.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


  • Nests on islands and coastal tundra of high Arctic.

  • On migration and in winter prefers sandy beaches.


Pecks and probes in sand for food. Runs along tide line. Runs up beach ahead of incoming wave, then turns around and runs after receding wave to pick up stranded invertebrates and probe in wet sand.


Aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Calidris
Species: Calidris alba

Similar Species

  • Similar to other small sandpipers, but paleness of nonbreeding plumage, white face, black bill and legs, bold wingstripe, and preference for sandy habitats distinguish it.

  • Rare Red-necked Stint similar to Sanderling in breeding plumage, but has unmarked reddish on face and chest, and dark markings on white lower chest.

Bird Sound

Call a soft "wick wick." Twittering in flocks. On breeding grounds male gives frog-like calls in flight.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution



Looking for food