South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Calidris alba

Length: 8 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Black smudge on shoulder, strong white wing stripe, black legs, sturdy black bill

Sanderling - Calidris albaThe Sanderling is a common sight on U.S. coastlines in the winter, moving up and down sandy beaches in advance and retreat of waves (see photo to the right).  They strongly prefer sandy beaches in the winter, and their pale plumage often matches the pale sand on which they forage.  Individual birds often return to the same wintering sites each year.  Destruction or heavy human use of winter beach habitat has resulted in sharp declines in recent decades.

Habitat: In summer, found on dry rocky tundra close to ponds and lakes.  At other seasons, they are generally found on sandy beaches and occasionally on rocky coastlines.

Diet: On summer breeding grounds, primarily feeds on insects and insect larvae, as well as some vegetation.  In winter and in migrations, feeds on sand crabs, small mollusks and crustaceans, amphipods, isopods, and marine worms.  In spring, they often stopover to feed heavily on horseshoe crab eggs.  They have also learned to eat human food that has been discarded.

Nesting: Non-breeder in South Dakota.  In breeding range, the nest of a Sanderling is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with bits of vegetation.  The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young quickly leave the nest and feed themselves, but are usually tended by both parents.  Sometimes only one parent tends the young.  The young typically fledge by about 18 days.

Song: Harsh kwip, often repeating.  Click here to listen to the Sanderling's song.

Migration: Summers in the high Arctic.  Winters along all coastlines of the U.S. and southward.  Also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, and they can be found nearly worldwide in the winter.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Sanderling sightings

Similar Species: Dunlin, Red Knot

Conservation Status: Some surveys have indicated a very serious decline since the 1970s, primarily due to habitat destruction.  However, they are still found over a very wide geographic area, they are common in parts of their range, and overall populations are strong.  The IUCN lists the Sanderling as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Sanderling

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Sanderling

3) -- Sanderling

Photo Information: December 9th, 2011 - Pacific Coast near San Francisco, California - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Sanderling photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Sanderling - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.