Birds – Solitary Sandpiper

(Totanus solitarius)


Length—8 to 9 inches.

Male and Female—In summer: Upper parts dingy olive with a greenish tinge, streaked on the head and neck, and finely spotted on the back with white; tail regularly barred with black and white, the white prevailing on the outer feathers; primaries and edge of wing blackish; underneath white, shaded with dusky and streaked on sides of throat and breast; sides and wing linings regularly barred with dusky. Long, slender, dark bill; legs dull green, turning black after death. In winter : Similar, but upper parts more grayish brown and the markings everywhere less distinct.

Range—North America, nesting occasionally in northern United States, but more commonly northward, and migrating southward in winter to Argentine Republic and Peru.

Season—Spring and autumn visitor; April, May; July to November. Rarely a summer resident.

A lover of woods, wet meadows, and secluded inland ponds, in the lowlands or the mountains rather than the salt water marshes and sand flats of the coast that most of its kin delight in, the wood tattler is a shy recluse, but not a hermit. At least a pair of birds are usually seen together, representatives of small flocks scattered over the neighborhood, but generally hidden in the underbrush. As compared with most other sandpipers that move in compact flocks and are ever inviting other waders to join them, this species is certainly unsocial; but to call it solitary implies that it is a misanthrope like the bittern, which no one knew better than Wilson, who named it, that it is not. “It is not a morose or monkish species, shunning its kind,” says Mr. D. G. Elliot, ” but is frequently met with in small companies of five or six individuals on the banks of some quiet pool in a secluded grove, peacefully gleaning a meal from the yielding soil or surface of the placid water. As they move with a sedate walk about their chosen retreat, each bows gravely to the other, as though expressing a hope that his friend is enjoying most excellent health, or else apologizing for intruding upon so charming a retreat and such select company.” Dainty, exquisite, graceful, exceedingly quick in their movements, their chief fault is in keeping out of sight so much of the time—the characteristic that preserves their delicate flesh from overloading game bags. Penetrate to their retreats, and they prefer running into the underbrush rather than expose their neat figures and speckled plumage by skimming over the pond. Sit down on the bank, and perhaps some dapper little fellow will pay no attention to your motionless figure and pursue his own concerns. He will run nimbly along the margin of the water, snapping at insects and caterpillars here and there, or, rising lightly in the air, seize a small dragonfly on the wing. He may go lightly over the lily-pads, rail fashion, half flitting with his wings, half running to keep himself from sinking, or wade up to his breast with measured steps, heron fashion, and remain fixed there, waiting for the small coleoptera to skip along the surface within range of his bill. This species appears to eat comparatively few snails, worms, and crustaceans, and a preponderance of insect fare. Its low, musical whistle is rarely heard here, but the South Americans see the propriety of calling this bird a tattler.

Although the solitary sandpiper is known to make its nest in the United States, so cleverly does it conceal it, only a single clutch of eggs has ever been found, so far as known, the one taken by Richardson near Lake Bombazine, Vermont, in May, 1878. Dr. Brewer described the eggs as light drab, with small rounded brown markings, some quite dark, nowhere con-fluent, and at the larger end a few faint purplish shell marks.