White-rumped Sandpiper

The White-rumped Sandpiper is a shorebird that holds a record for making some of the longest non-stop migrations in North America. They look rather unassuming, with their tawny and light brown spots along with a vividly white rump. However, their lifestyles have shown that they are some of the most durable birds found in North America. Their breeding grounds are located in some of the coldest regions on the planet, the Arctic tundra, with their wintering grounds taking them all the way to the southern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. They travel over 2000 miles without a break and can cover a longitudinal distance that resembles the length of the Atlantic Ocean.

About White-rumped Sandpipers

These birds are extremely social, remaining in large colonies and freely associating with Sandpipers of other species. Their migrations are a fascinating spectacle, often causing avid birders to gather every year in the hope to catch sight of these hardy travelers. When passing through the lands they follow, observers can easily identify them through the bright white patch that stands out in comparison to the rest of their bodies. The migrations that take them back to their breeding grounds are some of the largest gatherings of them, often resembling a stream of birds in the sky. Today, we want to be talking about the lives of these nomadic birds.

● White-rumped Sandpiper Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● White-rumped Sandpiper Size, Eating Behavior, Habitat
● White-rumped Sandpiper Range and Migration, Nesting


White-rumped Sandpiper Color Pattern

White-rumped Sandpipers hold a remarkable resemblance to Baird’s Sandpipers in shape and size but are noticeably grayer in color with a vivid white band that goes through the coverts of the tail near the rump. This band is mainly visible in flight. Their upper parts are a grayish color with brown and rufous spotting throughout the crown, head, back, and wings. On the other hand, their underparts are mainly white with fine dark streaks that run through their pale gray breast. Although both sexes look similar to each other during most seasons, breeding males have larger throats during the breeding seasons.

Juveniles are a mix of gray and bright rufous overall, with bold white tips that mark their flight feathers. They are easy to confuse with juvenile Western Sandpipers but have a different size and structure.

Description and Identification

The easiest way to spot these birds is to scout for areas that they pass through during migration seasons. Large numbers gather along coastal waterbodies and forage together in flocks. You can hear their high-pitch, squeaky calls from quite a distance away, especially when multiple birds make this call at the same time. Once you see their flocks, be mindful that though they look similar to Western Sandpipers, they are slightly larger and evidently grayer in color.

White-rumped Sandpiper Song

The most noticeable and frequent calls of these shorebirds is the characteristic and squeaky “prink prink”, or “tzeep tzeep”. These are metallic sounds that can sometimes have the faintest traces of a lisping sound. Other renditions of this call are “zip, tsip, and jeet”. These calls are common to both sexes and have been heard outside of the breeding seasons as well.

Males have a considerably larger vocal range than females, a feature that is especially noticeable during the breeding seasons. One of their calls is a long, rattling “buzz” that sounds like a typewriter. They repeat it three to eight times in rapid succession and it sounds like a “quo-ick”. Some notable naturalists have also compared this call to the buzzing of a fish reel running, or a small pig. Other notes these males make include a constant buzz-like twitter when they are looking for potential mates, a sound that is like a “bzzzzzz”. To observers, it can sound like a growling or a buzzing sound. Flite notes like “zip-zip” are also a part of their repertoire. Both sexes vocalize while feigning injuries to protect the nests, generally making silent but continual twittering alarm calls that sound like “tsch tsch” always given in disyllables.

White-rumped Sandpiper Size

These shorebirds are an intermediate size among Sandpipers, with a body length that is not too small nor too large. Their body length is around 5.9–7.1 inches, while their weight is roughly around 1.4–2.1 ounces. They relatively long and slightly droopy wings. They have a wingspan of 15.8–17.3 inches. Their wings extend well past their tails when they are perched. These proportions make them similar in size to Baird’s Sandpipers, smaller than Dunlins, but larger than Semipalmated Sandpipers.

White-rumped Sandpiper Behavior

These birds do not walk on land but choose to hop instead. Sometimes they run rapidly, but they tend to take to the skies more often than not. Their flight is undoubtedly one of their strongest features. They take firm and swift wing strides that swerve to the right or left when they tilt their bodies. While they are turning, their wings become perpendicular to each other to a point that the wingtips almost touch each other. During migration seasons,
their flocks maintain precise formations that change depending on the weather conditions. Although they do not seem very fond of swimming, they can in situations that threaten them enough to do so.

These birds are amicable during most times of the year, but males can get aggressive during breeding season when they are defending their territories. They stand guard and quickly react to intruders by flying at them and driving them away. Threatening displays include the defending and intruding males rushing towards each other while having their heads low and their back feathers ruffled. During this behavior, their wings don’t spread. When they make physical contact during hostile interactions, they fly low over the ground and peck at their opponent while beating each other with their wings. They may land and resume chasing each other afterward while keeping their tails ruffled.

Mated pairs are polygynous in this species’ case, with males taking on several female mates during the same breeding seasons. They make bonds through courtship displays by the males. These individuals fly over 100 feet above the ground and hover over their territory. If they catch the attention of a female, they will extend and distend their neck while singing their buzzing song. Afterward, they descend and eventually land with heavy, exaggerated wing beats that are similar to a butterfly. The male raises a single wing towards the female and chases her while dragging his wings on the ground.

White-rumped Sandpiper Diet

These Sandpipers feed on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates by probing their bills into mud or soft sand. Their insect prey includes midges, flies, craneflies, beetles, grasshoppers, leeches, bloodworms, marine worms, ramshorn snails, and tiny crustaceans (amphipods). If there is a dearth of insect prey in the open, they forage and may eat some plant matter. This plant matter mainly consists of seeds of knotweed and various types of locally available sedges.

White-rumped Sandpiper Habitat

These birds breed in the moist and wet regions of the tundra forests in the high arctic. In these regions, they use areas with low vegetation like grassy or mossy meadows, or low shrubby areas with arctic willows and clumps of sedges. Plants that they frequent towards include blueberry, water sedge, arctic redtop, narrow-leaved cottongrass, and mosses like bog, brown, twisted, shining, and gray moss. Most of their population’s nests are near freshwater ponds, lakes, or streams, but some nest in higher and drier regions of the tundra as well. Migration seasons take them over a large variety of freshwater habitats, including but not limited to wet agricultural fields, sod farms, freshwater impoundments, and marshes with muddy margins. Brackish habitats like the upper portions of tidal mudflats, lagoons, and estuaries are also popular among them. Their wintering habitats in South America are also in similar habitats but include more beaches, riverbanks, and lakes at higher elevations.

Range and Migration

These birds breed in the northern tundra of Canada and Alaska, remote north-eastern Alaska to Baffin Island. After breeding, they begin their extensive migrations towards the Patagonian coast in Chile and Argentina. They can travel over 2000 miles non-stop and cover the entire continent of North America within the span of a single month. They fly over the Atlantic Ocean and are extremely capable of flying through turbulent weather conditions. Their long migrations also take them over the South American countries of Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, and Paraguay until they reach their wintering locations at the very south of the continent. Vagrants of these birds have been found in western Europe occasionally, and in Australia on rarer occasions.

White-rumped Sandpiper Lifecycle

After mating, females lay 3–4 olive to green blotchy eggs. Females alone incubate the eggs for around 22 days, after which the chicks emerge fully active with down and leave the nest less than a day after hatching. Although females tend to them and brood them, the young are capable enough to find all of their own food. They learn to fly after 16–17 days following hatching and become independent soon afterward.


Males defend a breeding territory within which females find nest sites. These sites are located on hummocks or other small rises in wet tundra, with enough surrounding preferable to conceal the nests from predators. The nests themselves are built by females, who weave a cup of mosses, grasses, sedges, and other plant matter together. The inner lining is done through willow leaves, mosses, and lichens.

Anatomy of a White-rumped Sandpiper

These shorebirds are considered to be an intermediate size among Sandpipers, with a body length that is not too small nor too large. Their body length is around 5.9–7.1 inches, while their weight is roughly around 1.4–2.1 ounces. They are known for their relatively long and slightly drooping wings and their long wings that have a wingspan of 15.8–17.3 inches. Their wings extend well past their tails when they are perched. These proportions make them similar in size to Baird’s Sandpipers, smaller than Dunlins, but larger than Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Final Thoughts

Although these birds seem numerous, not much is known about their past or current population trends. They are likely impacted by factors that impact other arctic birds and shorebirds, like habitat loss due to the drainage of wetlands, or the depletion of underground aquifers that reduce the ground surface area of a wetland. Climate change may also be negatively impacting their numbers as they breed in areas that are especially susceptible to it. With these factors considered, their status of low conservation concern poses a few questions.

White-rumped Sandpipers are not only some of the most extreme long-distance migrants in just North America, but also in the world. These birds join with other extraordinary birds in proving that unimaginable feats can sometimes be accomplished by the most unassuming of individuals. Their large flocks that form rivers in the sky during migrations are a sight to behold for birders and non-birders alike, reminding each and every person of the immeasurable wonders that nature continues to offer to us.


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Bird Watching Binoculars for IdentifyingWhite-rumped Sandpipers

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing White-rumped Sandpipers are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

White-rumped Sandpiper Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the White-rumped Sandpiper. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For White-rumped Sandpipers

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird HousesFor White-rumped Sandpipers

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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