Common Sandpiper

Common SandpiperCommon Sandpipers are often spotted on the Helford, on their migration. Read on to find a video showing its characteristic, and very endearing, bobbing motion as it forages for food.
Photo (and video): Ray Surridge

Scientific name: Actitis hypoleucos

Other common names: Eurasian Sandpiper

Conservation status: UK Birds of Conservation Concern, Amber; IUCN Red List, Least Concern

What to look for:

  • Colouring and appearance: Smallish wader with a white chest and throat with greenish-grey-brown upperparts, dull green-yellow legs and a dark-tipped straight beak. A white wingbar can be observed in flight.
  • Size: Length 20 cm, wingspan 40 cm.
  • Where: The breeding grounds are by inland lakes and rivers in the northern parts of the UK. It can be seen further south as a passage migrant in spring and autumn; a very small number of birds overwinter here.
  • Call: A very distinctive call of three notes
  • Similar species: Green Sandpiper

If you spot a rather plain looking wader by a freshwater stream or on an estuary, and note that it is has an endearing habit of constantly bobbing up and down as it stands, then you can be pretty certain you are seeing a Common Sandpiper. If it calls with a distinctive three notes as it takes flight, then it is definitely a Common Sandpiper. Its flight pattern is very distinctive, its curved wings held stiffly as it flies low over water. Watch the video below to see its bobbing motion – which is called ‘teetering’ – and listen here to its call.

Common Sandpiper from Ray Surridge on Vimeo.

Seen up close, or through binoculars, a breeding Common Sandpiper is not as plain as it at first seems. Its brownish upperparts have a pretty streaking, a white ring frames each of its dark eyes and the contrast between its white belly and darker upperparts is striking. The non-breeding plumage is admittedly duller, but there is still the ‘teetering’ to enjoy.

Common Sandpipers eat singly or in small groups, mainly feasting on invertebrates, crustaceans and worms and will also eat frogs and small fish. They are ground-breeders, laying between three and five eggs which are incubated by both parents.

Did you know…?

…Just like it says on the tin: the species name hypoleucos is derived from the Greek for ‘white below’. The genus name Aktites is from the Greek meaning ‘coast dweller’.

…This bird has an Amber status in the UK because of a decline in the breeding population, possibly due to loss or disturbance of breeding habitat

More information and references:

Svensson, L., Mullarney, K., Zetterstrom, D.,1986. Collins Bird Guide, second edition (translated by Christie, D., Svensson, L.). HarperCollins, London.

Published: November 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos and video: Ray Surridge