Solitary Sandpiper

Tringa solitaria


No other shorebird has such an unusual nesting site-a tree! The Solitary Sandpiper's nesting strategy remained undiscovered by early ornithologists because they never thought to look for this bird's nest in abandoned songbird nests in trees. Shorebirds lay very large eggs and incubate them for long periods of time. By developing in the egg rather than in the nest, a chick's chance of survival is increased. By the time sandpiper chicks break out of their eggs, they are ready for the world. Such highly developed hatchlings, known as precocial young, fend for themselves soon after leaving the nest. (The hatchlings of many songbirds are born naked and helpless; they are called altricial young.) True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone or in small groups, bobbing its body like a Latin dancer.

I.D.: Sexes similar: white eye ring; short green legs; brown-gray spotted back; white lore; brown-gray head, neck and breast have fine white streaks; dark uppertail feathers have black and white barring on the sides.

Size: L 71/2-9 in. (19-23 cm).

Range: uncommon migrant and summer resident in Alberta and British Columbia; uncommon migrant in the U.S. Rockies.

Habitat: wet meadows, sewage lagoons, muddy ponds, sedge wetlands and beaver ponds in migration; breeds in heavily forested wetlands.

Nesting: typically in the boreal forest; in a spruce tree in a bog or muskeg; will use the abandoned nest of a thrush, blackbird or other songbird; pair incubates 4 eggs for 23-24 days; young jump from the nest to the ground shortly after hatching.

Feeding: stalks shorelines, picking up aquatic invertebrates, such as waterboatmen and damselfly nymphs; also gleans for terrestrial invertebrates; occasionally stirs the water with a foot to spook out prey.

Voice: high, thin peet-wheet or wheet wheet wheet during summer.

Similar Species: Lesser Yellowlegs: no eye ring; bright yellow legs. Spotted Sandpiper: incomplete eye ring; very spotted breast; orange, black-tipped bill.