STILT SANDPIPER – (Calidris himantopus)
The Stilt Sandpiper is a wading shorebird measuring around 20 cm (8 in.) long. The breeding plumage consists mostly of brown vertical stripes on the upper body parts, with a rufous patch behind the eye and a darker head cap. The back and wings are scaled brown, and the underparts are whitish. The long, thin bill is black and the legs are green. Non-breeding adults are mostly grey with a white eyebrow, and the legs are yellow.
The still sandpiper can easily be confused with a yellowlegs in the winter due to its legs color, and with a dowitcher due to its sewing machine motion when probing the ground for prey.
The name ‘Sandpiper’ stems from the habitat where this species is found – sand beaches – and from Latin ‘pipare’, to chirp. The Latin genus name ‘Calidris’ is from ancient Greek and refers to a grey speckled shorebird. The Latin species name, ‘himantopus’, is from Greek and refers to the stilt-like long legs of this bird.
The habitat of this sandpiper includes the wet tundra in the summer, and wetlands such as flooded fields or mudflats during migration and the winter.
Stilt sandpipers forage in the ground with their specialized bill for insects and their larvae, molluscs, crustaceans, and outside the breeding season they will also feed on seeds and other plant material.
This species builds a nest on a ridge around sedges and line it with that plant. The young can feed on their own right from day one, and the parents tend to them for only about a week.
The stilt sandpiper does not breed on PEI, and sightings of this bird on the island so far have been reported as occasional in the summer, and occasional to uncommon in the fall, during their migration. Their breeding areas are in the west coastal areas of Hudson Bay, and the coastal areas of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and the north coast of Alaska. They migrate through the mid-section of Canada and the USA, and spend the winter inland and along the coasts of Texas and Mexico.
Conservation: although there is some habitat loss due to drainage for agriculture and development in their wintering grounds, stilt sandpiper numbers appear stable.