SANDPIPER (Ger. Sandpfeifer), the name applied to nearly all the smaller kinds of the group Limicolae which are not Plovers (q.v.) or Snipes (q.v.), but may be said to be intermediate between them. According to F. Willughby in 1676 it was the name given by Yorkshiremen to the bird popularly known in England as the “Summer-Snipe,”—the Tringa hypoleucos of Linnaeus and the Totanus hypoleucus of later writers,—but probably even in Willughby's time the name was of much wider signification. Placed by most systematists in the family Scolopacidae, the birds commonly called Sandpipers seem to form three sections, which have been often regarded as Subfamilies—Totaninae, Tringinae and Phalaropodinae, the last indeed in some classifications taking the higher rank of a Family—Phalaropodidae. This section comprehends three species only, known as Phalaropes or swimming sandpipers, which are distinguished by the membranes that fringe their toes, in two of the species forming marginal lobes,[1] and by the character of their lower plumage, which is as close as that of a duck. The most obvious distinctions between Totaninae and Tringinae may be said to lie in the acute or blunt form of the tip of the bill (with which is associated a less or greater development of the sensitive nerves running almost if not quite to its extremity, and therefore greatly influencing the mode of feeding) and in the style of plumage—the Tringinae, with blunt and flexible bills, mostly assuming a summer-dress in which some tint of chestnut or reddish-brown is prevalent, while the Totaninae, with acute and stiffer bills display no such lively colours. Furthermore, the Tringinae, except when breeding, frequent the sea-shore much more than do the Totaninae.[2] To the latter belong the Greenshank (q.v.) and Redshank (q.v.), as well as the Common Sandpiper, the “Summer-Snipe” above-mentioned, a bird hardly exceeding a skylark in size, and of very general distribution throughout the British Islands, but chiefly frequenting clear streams, especially those with a gravelly or rocky bottom, and most generally breeding on the beds of sand or shingle on their banks. It usually makes its appearance in May. The nest, in which four eggs are laid with their pointed ends meeting in its centre (as is usual among Limicoline birds), is seldom far from the water’s edge, and the eggs, as well as the newly-hatched and down-covered young, closely resemble the surrounding pebbles. The Common Sandpiper is found over the greater part of the Old World. In summer it is the most abundant bird of its kind in the extreme N. of Europe, and it extends across Asia to Japan. In winter it makes its way to India, Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. In America its place is taken by a closely kindred species, which is said to have also occurred in England—T. macularius, the “Peetweet,” or Spotted Sandpiper, so called from its usual cry, or from the almost circular marks which spot its lower plumage. In habits it is very similar to its congener of the Old World, and in winter it migrates to the Antilles and to Central and South America.

Of other Totaninae, one of the most remarkable is that to which the inappropriate name of Green Sandpiper has been assigned, the Totanus or Helodromas ochropus of ornithologists, which differs (so far as is known) from all others of the group both in its osteology[3] and mode of nidification, the hen laying her eggs in the deserted nests of other birds,—Jays, Thrushes or Pigeons,—but nearly always at some height (from 3 to 30 ft.) from the ground (Proc. Zool. Society, 1863, pp. 529–532). This species occurs in England the whole year round, and is presumed to have bred there, though the fact has never been satisfactorily proved, and knowledge of its erratic habits comes from naturalists in Pomerania and Sweden. This sandpiper is characterized by its dark upper plumage, which contrasts strongly with the white of the lower part of the back and gives the bird as it flies much the look of a very large house-martin. The so-called wood-sandpiper, T. glareola, which, though much less common, is known to have bred in England, has a considerable resemblance to the species last mentioned, but can be distinguished by the feathers of the axillary plume being white barred with greyish-black, while in the green sandpiper they are greyish-black barred with white. It is an abundant bird in most parts of northern Europe, migrating in winter very far to the southward.

Of the section Tringinae the best known are the Knot (q.v.) and the Dunlin, T. alpina. The latter, often also called Ox-bird, Plover’s Page, Purre and Stint,—names which it shares with some other species,—not only breeds commonly on many of the elevated moors of Britain, but in autumn resorts in countless flocks to the shores. In winter of a nearly uniform ash-grey above and white beneath, in summer the feathers of the back are black, with deep rust-coloured edges, and a broad black belt occupies the breast. The Dunlin varies considerably in size, examples from N. America being almost always recognizable from their greater bulk, while in Europe there appears to be a smaller race which has received the name of T. schinzi. In the breeding-season the male Dunlin utters a most peculiar and far-sounding whistle, somewhat resembling the continued ringing of a high-toned musical bell.

Next to the Dunlin and Knot the commonest British Tringinae are the Sanderling, Calidris arenaria (distinguished from every other bird of the group by wanting a hind toe), the Purple Sandpiper, T. striata or maritima, the Curlew-Sandpiper, T. subarquata and the Little and Temminck’s Stints, T. minuta and T. temmincki. T. minutilla, the American stint, is darker, with olive feet, and ranges from the Arctic New World to Brazil. T. fuscicollis, Bonaparte’s sandpiper, with white upper tail-coverts inhabits Arctic America, but reaches the greater part of South America in winter, whilst T. bairdi, with brownish median tail-coverts, extends over nearly all North America, breeding towards the north.

The broad-billed sandpiper, T. platyrhyncha, of the Old World, seems to be more snipe-like than any that are usually assigned to this section. The spoon-billed sandpiper, Eurinorhynchus pygmaeus, breeds in north-eastern Asia and N.W. America, and ranges to China and Burma in winter.  (A. N.) 

  1. These are Phalaropus fulicarius and P. (or Lobipes) hyperboreus, and were thought by some of the older writers to be allied to the Coots (q.v.). The third species is P. (or Steganopus) wilsoni. All are natives of the higher parts of the N. hemisphere, and the last is especially American, though perhaps a straggler to Europe.
  2. There are no English words adequate to express these two sections. By some British writers the Tringinae have been indicated as “Stints,” a term cognate with Stunt and wholly inapplicable to many of them, while American writers have restricted to them the name of “Sandpiper,” and call the Totaninae, to which that name is especially appropriate, “Willets.”
  3. It possesses only a single pair of posterior “emarginations” on its sternum, in this respect resembling the Ruff (q.v.). Among the Plovers and Snipes other similarly exceptional cases may be found.