Actitis hypoleucoscommon sandpiper

Geographic Range

Actitis hypoleucos, often referred to as common sandpipers, can be found throughout the world from western Europe, eastward across Asia to Japan, extending south to Africa and Australia. During the spring and summer when it is breeding season, they are typically found in the northern hemisphere ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to Japan, usually in temperate climates. Common sandpipers are migratory birds that overwinter in warmer climates throughout the Old World, specifically Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. (Malpas, et al., 2004)


Common sandpipers can live in a variety of habitats depending on season. During the breeding season, they tend to nest along sandy coasts and river banks preferably near fast-moving water. Their habitat can extend up into the mountains as high as the tree-line if the climate and environment is suitable. They are able to withstand heavy rain and a broad range of day-to-night temperatures to be expected in a temperate climate. In the winter when the breeding season has passed, common sandpipers tend to move south to more tropical climates where they prefer to live in wetlands. They generally choose ponds, rivers, canals, estuaries, and mangroves. As evidence by their habitat selection, common sandpipers avoid very hot climates, as well as frozen or snowy regions. (Boev, 1998; Tan, 2001)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • coastal
  • Range elevation
    Sea level to 4,000 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Adult, breeding common sandpipers are brownish-gray on their heads, napes and breast, which are all faintly streaked with dark brown. Their bellies and undertail coverts are unmarked white. Backs, wings and tails are overall darker brown, mottled with shades of tan and very dark brown. In addition, they often have a white ring around the eyes. Like many migrating birds, common sandpipers molt after the breeding season into their winter plumage. Winter plumage is a more drab version of the breeding plumage, and the streaking in particular fades or disappears completely. The young have white speckles also on the upper part. Juveniles look very similar to wintering adults, but have significantly more buff incorporated into their mottled upperparts. This species can be distinguished from the spotted sandpiper due to their longer tail feathers and darker legs. They are approximately 8 grams at hatching and their mass increases to about 40 grams when able to fly. In addition they grow to be about 20 cm long with bills measuring 21 mm in length. Their wingspan adult wingspan reaches 35 cm. This species displays no sexual dimorphism in plumage, but females tend to be a little larger than males. (Chandler, 2009; Holland and Yalden, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Average mass
    40 g
    1.41 oz
  • Range length
    18 to 24 cm
    7.09 to 9.45 in
  • Average length
    20 cm
    7.87 in
  • Average wingspan
    35 cm
    13.78 in


Common sandpipers are almost exclusively monogamous for each breeding season. The length of this pair bond is currently unknown. The male will defend his territory and his female by making threatening displays. A specific example is a salute where they throw out one or both wings as a warning that they are prepared to chase intruders off to defend the territory. On rare occasions, the female may join in displaying threats, but the female does not engage in fighting. (Mee, et al., 2004)

Common sandpipers typically breed in the northern hemisphere during May and June. Common sandpipers construct scrape nests, which are essentially shallow indentations on the ground and are typically left unlined. The female excavates a nest within 50 meters of water and then lays an average of 4 eggs per clutch. The incubation period lasts an average of 21 days and the chicks usually hatch within the first 10 days of June. The precocial young fledge after 22 to 28 days. Growth rate of chicks have been shown to correlate with weather, with higher growth rates associated with warmer temperatures. They tend to be fast growing, but as a result use up a lot of energy early on in development. Juvenile common sandpipers often remain on the wintering grounds for their first summer, and thus don't breed until almost 2 years of age. (Tan, 2001; Yalden and Dougall, 1994; del Hoyo, et al., 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    Common sandpipers breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding typically occurs during May and June.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    21 days
  • Range fledging age
    22 to 28 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

The female is responsible for building the nest. Once the eggs have been laid, both parents share incubation duties until the eggs hatch after 3 weeks. The young are fed and protected by both parents for several days after hatching. Young are semi-precocial at birth and are able to leave the nest soon after hatching to hide in nearby vegetation. The female typically departs before the young fledge at 22 to 28 days old. (Tan, 2001; del Hoyo, et al., 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Young sandpipers show a survival rate around 57%. With adults, this rate rises up to 85%. The average common sandpiper is able to live approximately 8 years in the wild. However, the oldest recorded individual was slightly over 14 years of age. (Robinson, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years


Common sandpipers are well known for making long distance migrations each year. During the spring and autumn, they migrate to habitats that have preferential, warmer climates. Adults migrate along the coast, while juveniles do so more inland. These birds are social and therefore live and migrate with around 30 others in a flock. They fly close to the ground or water and emit a distinct 3 note call particularly when in the air. Their flight can be easily recognized due to their stiff, bowed wings. Common sandpipers are diurnal and forage during the day. In addition, during the day they may preen and bathe. They are often identified by their characteristic bobbing head and tail when walking along the ground, which appears to resemble a nervous tick that is referred to as "teetering". (Arcas, 1999)

Home Range

Although males defend territory and mates, specific territory size is currently unknown.

Communication and Perception

Common sandpipers communicate with each other by vocalizations that resemble "Twee, wee, wee". These vocalizations are most common when they are flying in the air and trying to communicate. Common sandpipers are noisy when breeding or moving, but are very quiet when eating. In addition, they may use their wings and other forms of visual signaling. Like most birds, common sandpipers perceive their environments through visual, tactile, auditory and chemical stimuli. (Tan, 2001)

Food Habits

Common sandpipers usually eat small invertebrates, crustaceans, aquatic and terrestrial insects, worms, and spiders, as well as scavenge on scraps from boats or from near shore. On occasion, they will eat small amphibians, tadpoles, fish and seeds. They locate live prey by running along the coastline and then run, swim, or dive to capture it. They break their prey into smaller pieces in order to feed. Typically, they feed individually or in pairs and avoid foraging in areas where other flocks feed to avoid competition and predation. (Tan, 2001; del Hoyo, et al., 1996)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Young common sandpipers are particularly vulnerable to predation before fledging. Further enhancing their vulnerability, chicks tend to be weak and unable to escape predators. As a defense against predation, parents fly away in order to distract the predators and they gather in flocks to work together to provide defense. When near water, they can also dive for short periods of time when being chased. Like many sandpipers, their brown-mottled coloration serves as camouflage in their coastal habitats. Some known predators of common sandpipers include estuarine crocodiles, foxes, weasels, gulls and skuas. (Yalden and Dougall, 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Actitis hypoleucos is one of three species within the family Scolopacidae that does not display a resistance to blood parasites. As a consequence, they tend to be carriers of blood parasites such as Haemoproteus contortus. Common sandpipers are also carriers of various other common avian parasites. They also play an important roles as predator and prey within their ecosystem. (Earle and Underhill, 1992)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • blood parasites (Haemoproteus contortus)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive economic effects of common sandpipers for humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of common sandpipers on humans.

Conservation Status

Currently, common sandpipers are listed under the category of Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). They are presently one of the most widespread and adaptable shorebirds. There are estimated to be between 2,600,000 and 3,200,000 adults living worldwide. Their population has been declining recently, but their population size is large enough to not be vulnerable at this point. This decline in population is attributed to a decreasing breeding population as a result of those lost due to recreational fishing. Increased human development on coastal areas frequently disrupts the breeding activities of this, and many other shorebirds. Such disturbances during the breeding season result in failed nesting attempts, and an overall population decrease. (Malpas, et al., 2004; Malpas, et al., 2004)

Other Comments

Actitis hypoleucos likely descended from Actitis balcanica. In addition, it is closely related to spotted sandpipers (Actitis mulcaria) which are commonly found in North and South America. Besides "common sandpipers", this species may also be referred to as "Eurasian sandpipers" or "summer snipes". (Boev, 1998)


Ryan Pines (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Arcas, J. 1999. Origin of the Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos Captured in the Iberian Peninsula During Their Autumn Migration. Wader Study Group, 89: 56-59.

Boev, Z. 1998. Actitis balcanic sp. n.- a Late Pliocene Sandpiper From Bulgaria. Historia Naturalis Bulgarica, 9: 71-77.

Chandler, R. 2009. Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia: a Photographic Guide. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Earle, R., L. Underhill. 1992. Absence of Haematozoa in Some Charadriformes Breeding in the Taimyr Peninsula, Russia. Ardea, 81/1: 21-24.

Holland, P., D. Yalden. 1991. Growth of Common Sandpiper Chicks. Wader Study Group, 62: 13-15.

Malpas, L., J. Ekstrom, S. Butchart. 2004. Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). Detailed Species Accounts from Birds in Europe.

Mee, A., D. Whitfield, D. Thompson, T. Burke. 2004. Extrapair Paternity in the Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, Revealed by DNA Fingerprinting. Animal Behaviour, 67/2: 333-342.

Robinson, R. 2005. "Common Sandpiper Acititis hypoleucos" (On-line). British Trust for Ornithology. Accessed February 14, 2011 at

Tan, R. 2001. "Common Sandpiper Acititis hypoleucos" (On-line). Naturia. Accessed February 11, 2011 at

Yalden, D., T. Dougall. 1994. Habitat, Weather, and the Growth Rates of Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Chicks. Wader Study Group, 73: 33-35.

Yalden, D., T. Dougall. 2004. Production, Survival, and Catchability of Chicks of Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos. Wader Study Group, 104: 82-84.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks.. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.