South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Stilt Sandpiper

Calidris himantopus

Length: 8 inches Wingspan: 16 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Chestnut ear patch and dark barring on underparts in breeding plumage.  Otherwise, feeding behavior (see below) and long bill drooped at tip are best marks.

Stilt Sandpiper - Calidris himantopusThe Stilt Sandpiper is very similar in shape to one of the yellowlegs, but is more closely related to the tiniest of the sandpipers.  When feeding, they tend to act like a dowitcher, probing mudflats and shallow water with their long bills. They are often less shy than other sandpipers, a trait which led to a severe decline as hunters targeted them in the 1800s.  Their numbers have recovered nicely, however, and are still thought to be increasing.  They are a relatively common migrant through South Dakota, as they prefer to forage in shallow freshwater areas, not saltwater tidal areas like some of their relatives.  The bird shown to the right is dressed in the much drabber winter plumage.  Birds in breeding plumage are more brightly marked with distinctive chestnut colored ear patches.

Habitat: Breeds on wet meadows of the Arctic Tundra.  In winter and in migration, they are most often found on shallow freshwater areas such as shallow ponds and lakes, and marshes with expanses of shallow open water.

Diet: Feeds on a variety of items including aquatic insects and their larvae, marine worms, small crustaceans and mollusks, and parts of aquatic plants.  

Behavior: Feeds by wading in shallow water, probing in the mud below for food items, or plucking food items from the surface of the water.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Low twew.  Also has a variety of coarse calls and whines on its summer breeding grounds. 

Migration: Summers in the high Arctic.  A few winter in the extreme southern U.S. along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines and at the Salton Sea, but the majority migrate to South America.

Similar Species: Lesser Yellowlegs, Curlew Sandpiper

Conservation Status: Populations appear to be increasing in recent decades.

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Stilt Sandpiper

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Stilt Sandpiper

3) -- Stilt Sandpiper

Photo Information: September 30th, 2004 -- Lake Thompson -- Terry Sohl

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


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Stilt Sandpiper - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.