Birds – Spotted Sandpiper

(Actitis macularia)


Length—7.50 inches.

Male and Female—Upper parts an olive ashen color, iridescent, and spotted and streaked with black; line over eye and under parts white, the latter plentifully spotted with round black dots large and small, but larger and closer on the male than on the female, the smallest marks on throat; inner tail feathers like the back, the outer ones with blackish bars; secondaries and their coverts broadly tipped with white; some white feathers at bend of wing; white wing lining with dusky bar; other white feathers concealed in folded wing, but conspicuous in flight. Bill flesh colored or partly yellow, black tipped. Winter birds are duller and browner and without bars on upper parts.

Range—North America to Hudson Bay, nesting throughout its range; winters in southern states and southward to Brazil.

Season—Summer resident; April to September or October.

The familiar little spotted sandpiper of ditches and pools, roadside and woodland streams, river shores, creeks, swamps, and wet meadows—of the sea beaches, too, during the migrations, at least—quite as frequently goes to dry uplands, wooded slopes, and mountains so high as the timber line, as if undecided whether to be a shore or a land bird, a wader or a songster. Charming to the eye and ear alike, what possible attraction can a half dozen of these pathetically small bodies roasted and served on a skewer have to a hungry man when beefsteak is twenty cents a pound ? A thrush is larger and scarcely more tuneful, yet numbers of these little sandpipers are shot annually.

Some quaint and ridiculous mannerisms, recorded in a large list of popular names, make this a particularly interesting bird to watch. Alighting after a short, low flight, it first stands still, like a willet, to look about; then making a deep bow to the spectator, you might feel complimented by the obeisance, did not the elevation of the rear extremity turned toward you the next minute imply a withering contempt. Bowing first toward you, then from you, the teeter deliberately sea-saws east, west, north, south. This absurd performance, frequently and ever solemnly indulged in, interrupts many a meal and run along the beach. A sudden jerking up or jetting of the tail as the bird walks, like the solitary sandpiper, gives it a most curious gait, all the more amusing be-cause the bird is so small and evidently so self-satisfied. One rarely sees more than a pair of these sandpipers in a neighbor-hood which they somehow preempt, except at the migrations, when families travel together; but as two broods are generally raised in a summer, these family parties are no mean sized flock. Startle a “teeter snipe,” and with a sharp, sweet Peet-weet, weetweet, it flies off swiftly on a curve, in a steady, low course, but with none of the erratic zig-zags characteristic of a true snipe’s motions, and soon alights not far from where it set out. A fence rail, a tree, or even the roofs of outbuildings on the farm have been chosen as resting places. The peet-weets skim above the waving grain inland, their pendant, pointed wings beating steadily, and follow the same graceful curves that mark their course above the sea.

In the nesting season, which practically extends all through the summer, this is a sand. “lark ” indeed. Soaring upward, singing as he goes, in that angelic manner of the true lark of England, the male pours out his happiness in low, sweet peet-weets trilled rapidly and prolonged into a song ;—cheerful, even ecstatic notes, without a trace of the plaintive tone heard at other times. A good deal of music passes back and forth from these birds a-wing. Fluffy little chicks run from the creamy buff shells thickly spotted and speckled with brown, as soon as hatched. The nest, or a depression in the ground, lined with dry grass, that answers every purpose, may be in a meadow or orchard, but rarely far from water that attracts worms, snails, and insects for the little family to feed on. This is the one sandpiper that we may confidently expect to meet throughout the summer.