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wood sandpiper

Tringa glareola

What do they look like?

The upper body of wood sandpipers is spotted, while their breasts and necks are white with brown stripes. Solitary sandpipers (Tringa solitaria) and green sandpipers (Tringa ochropus) have a similar pattern. Their supercilium, the white patch of feathers above their eyes, either extends from behind their eyes to the back of their ear-coverts, or from the base of their beak to the back of their ear-coverts. Their beak is short and straight, with a deep olive-green base and averages 25 to 32 millimeters in length. Their tarsus bones are connected to their thighs and are approximately 32 to 41 mm in length. Wood sandpipers' legs are long and vary in color from yellow to nearly green. Their toes are slender and have almost no webbing; their hind toes hardly touch the ground when they stand. Their tails measure 45 to 53 millimeters in length and are brownish, which contrasts with the white patch on their rump. These birds have different features at different stages in their lives. Breeding adults have slim bodies, the upper portion of their feathers are white and speckled, while their breasts and necks are covered with streaks. Their legs are yellowish and their bill has a pale base. Non-breeding adults have brownish upper parts and do not have black feathers. At this stage they are not spotted like breeding adults, instead their breasts have grayish streaks. Juvenile birds are similar in appearance to non-breeding adults, except their upper parts are a much darker, warmer brown. Juveniles have more spotting and streaking on their breasts and by the end of autumn, the buff color fades into a whitish color. (Alderfer, 2006; Alsop III, 2001; Hayman, et al., 1986; Sibley, et al., 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    159 g
    5.60 oz
  • Range length
    190 to 210 mm
    7.48 to 8.27 in
  • Range wingspan
    120 to 134 mm
    4.72 to 5.28 in

Where do they live?

Wood sandpipers (Tringa glareola) are one of the most widespread bird species in the world. Their range extends from Siberia to Scotland. They migrate towards the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. These birds are one of the best migrants of their genus. In North America, they have been found in locations such as New York and Bermuda. Even though wood sandpipers are found in these locations, they are native to the Palearctic, Oriental, Ethiopian and Australian regions. During winter, they are found in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. This species is common in sub-Saharan Africa and India, in contrast, fewer individuals are found in Australia and Tasmania. This species may travel to Iceland, Azores, Barbados, Greenland, Faeroes, Madeira and Hawaii when it migrates. (Alderfer, 2006; "Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; Hayman, et al., 1986; Sibley, et al., 2009)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Wood sandpipers may be found in several different habitats. They are commonly found in open areas such as inland freshwater lakes, reservoirs, muddy marshlands, grassy stream banks, sewage farms, wet paddy fields, small temporary pools, permanent swamps, flooded grasslands, irrigation channels along creeks of salt marshes and mangrove swamps. However, their breeding typically takes place between coniferous forests and tundra areas, with mossy, sedge or grassy marshes. ("World Biomes", 2004; "Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013)

  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • taiga
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • brackish water

How do they reproduce?

Wood sandpipers are monogamous and territorial birds. They breed between May and Mid-July, although they are found in their breeding habitat by late April. Their breeding areas include boreal forests, wet heathlands, grassy marshes and scrublands. Males use their plumage feathers to attract mates. When breeding, these birds split off into solitary pairs. Typically 1 to 10 pairs can be found per kilometer squared, or up to 50 pairs per kilometer squared in the forest tundra. This species nests in the winter, nesting sites may include 50 to over 1,000 nests scattered in a given area. ("Wood Sandpiper", 2002; Alsop III, 2001; Baicich and Harrison, 2005; "Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; Earle and Underhill, 1992)

Wood sandpipers are territorial during their breeding season. When choosing a mate, birds occasionally lock bills and fight. During their nesting period, they make nests of dry leaves and grasses built into the ground; they may also use the abandoned tree nests of other birds. They have a singled brooded each year, with eggs that measure up to 38 x 26 mm. Both males and females incubate the eggs, although more time is invested by females. After hatching, females leave the nest while males watch over the chicks. This continues until the chicks begin flying, which takes approximately 30 days. Once the chicks are able to fly, they are considered independent and they can leave the nest when the ground is dry. It takes approximately a year for chicks to fully mature. (Baicich and Harrison, 2005; Hayman, et al., 1986; "AnAge entry for Tringa glareola", 2012; Sibley, et al., 2009)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Wood sandpipers breed seasonally.
  • Breeding season
    Wood sandpipers breed from May to August.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 23 days
  • Range fledging age
    28 to 31 days
  • Average time to independence
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Adult wood sandpipers begin leaving their breeding areas in late June; they are followed by the juveniles in late August. Chicks are very precocial when they are born and are able to start foraging a couple hours after hatching. At least one parent, usually the male, stays behind with the chicks during the first weeks after hatching. The mother usually leaves the nest in order to fatten up and regain energy. In order to watch for predators and take care of the chicks, males stay at the nesting site instead of migrating. ("Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; Sibley, et al., 2009; "Tringa glareola - Wood sandpiper", 2011)

How long do they live?

During the first year of their life, wood sandpipers have a mortality rate of 83 to 88%, whereas adult wood sandpipers have a mortality rate of 46%. The oldest banded wood sandpiper on record was 9 years and 2 months old. ("Tringa glareola — Wood Sandpiper", 2013; "AnAge entry for Tringa glareola", 2012)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    9.2 years

How do they behave?

Wood sandpipers are migratory and travel over Europe and the Middle East. Although, during the breeding season, they stay near northern Russia until their young are hatched and nearly mature. Birds that are not ready for breeding tend to stay in southern regions throughout the summer. Pairs of breeding wood sandpipers create nests away from other breeding pairs. After breeding, the birds migrate to Africa, although they may briefly stop near the Mediterranean Sea and fly over the Sahara Desert on their way. Wood sandpipers leave for their wintering grounds during March and early April. They may travel in small groups of 20 to 50 birds, or large flocks of up to 1,000 individuals. ("Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; Sibley, et al., 2009)

Home Range

There is currently little information regarding the exact home range size of wood sandpipers.

How do they communicate with each other?

Wood sandpipers make loud vocalizations, with low-frequency, repetitive sounds when they are flying, defending their territory or trying to find a mate. When they are flying, their call sounds like: 'chiff-if' or 'chiff-if-iff'. They make sharp, repetitive 'chip' alarm calls when they sense danger. Wood sandpipers have a lovely song, which sounds similar to the song of their relative, redshanks (Tringa tetanus). Wood sandpiper perform displays while they are flying or on the ground, to attract the attention of their mates. Since these birds are usually found in open areas, their displays can be seen from far away. (Hayman, et al., 1986; Sibley, et al., 2009)

What do they eat?

Wood sandpipers eat many different types of food, ranging from plants to animals. Among animals, they eat mollusks, earthworms, arthropods, crustaceans, fishes, spiders, frogs and larval midges. Wood sandpipers also eat seeds, grains, nuts and algae. ("Tringa glareola — Wood Sandpiper", 2013; Székely and Bamberger, 1992)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • algae

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Their predators mostly prey on their nests and include foxes, weasels, gulls, jaegers, falcons and hawks. Wood sandpipers may migrate as often as they do to avoid predators. When falcons attack, they attempt to separate an individual bird from its flock. So, when wood sandpipers are attacked, they stick together in thick, coordinated flocks that move together quickly and turn often, forming waves of motion. These birds may also 'feign' an injury, in such cases, the bird pretends to have a broken wing and drag its wing or tail as it slowly flutters away from the nest. They also may flash brightly contrasting feathers such as wing-bars. This makes them look like they have a second pair of legs. When they do this, they make their feathers stand up so they look like fur and make a squealing sound, while zigzagging along the ground. Wood sandpipers may also get avian botulism from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum and avian malaria from the bacteria Plasmodium relictum. ("Mortality Threats to Birds - Avian Malaria (Plasmodium relictum)", 2010; "Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Lank, et al., 2003; "Botulism", 2003; Sibley, et al., 2009)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Wood sandpipers eat a variety of animals including frogs, fishes, insects, arachnids, mollusks and earthworms. They also eat plant material, which causes them to spread seeds. They may also host blood parasites. ("Tringa glareola — Wood Sandpiper", 2013; Earle and Underhill, 1992)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

Wood sandpipers can carry the West Nile Virus, which could pose a threat to human health. (Rappole, et al., 2000)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

How do they interact with us?

Humans hunt wood sandpipers for food. Likewise, wild wood sandpipers may be caught and kept as pets. ("Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013)

Are they endangered?

This species is currently not at risk and has stable population growth. The largest concern for the species is the loss of their habitat. Likewise, effects such as human air travel, jet skis and hunting also pose threats. They may also be impacted by pollution, climate change, resource use, mining, invasive species, disease and agriculture. ("Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola", 2013; "Tringa glareola — Wood Sandpiper", 2013; Sibley, et al., 2009)


Amy E. Buettner (author), Bridgewater College, Joemar P. Pazos (author), Bridgewater College, Tamara Johnstone-Yellin (editor), Bridgewater College, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


2012. "AnAge entry for Tringa glareola" (On-line). AnAge: The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database. Accessed February 26, 2013 at

Penn State Erie. 2003. "Botulism" (On-line). Pennsylvania Sea Grant. Accessed April 03, 2013 at

American Bird Conservancy. 2010. "Mortality Threats to Birds - Avian Malaria (Plasmodium relictum)" (On-line). American Bird Conservancy. Accessed April 02, 2013 at

2011. "Tringa glareola - Wood sandpiper" (On-line). Gateway To Wildpro Multimedia. Accessed February 24, 2013 at

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 2013. "Tringa glareola — Wood Sandpiper" (On-line). Accessed February 23, 2013 at

BirdLife International. 2013. "Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola" (On-line). BirdLife International. Accessed February 23, 2013 at

2002. "Wood Sandpiper" (On-line). What Accessed February 27, 2013 at

2004. "World Biomes" (On-line). Kids Do Ecology. Accessed February 24, 2013 at

Alderfer, J. 2006. National Geographic complete birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Alsop III, F. 2001. Smithsonian birds of North America. New York: DK Publishing, Inc..

Baicich, P., C. Harrison. 2005. Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Earle, R., L. Underhill. 1992. Absence of haematozoa in some Charadriiformes breeding in the Taimyr Peninsula, Russia. Ardea, 81: 21-24.

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. "Sandpipers, Social Systems, and Territoriality" (On-line). Accessed February 27, 2013 at,_Social.html.

Hayman, P., J. Marchant, T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds: An identification guide. Boston Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lank, D., R. Butler, J. Ireland, R. Ydenberg. 2003. Effects of predation danger on migration strategies of sandpipers. OIKOS Synthesizing Ecology, 103: 303-319.

Rappole, J., S. Derrickson, H. Zdenek. 2000. Migratory birds and the spread of West Nile virus in the Western hemisphere. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 6:4: 319-328.

Sibley, D., C. Elphick, J. Dunning. 2009. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Székely, T., Z. Bamberger. 1992. Predation of Waders (Charadrii) on Prey Populations: An Exclosure Experiment. Journal of Animal Ecology, 61, No. 2: 447-456.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Buettner, A. and J. Pazos 2013. "Tringa glareola" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 18, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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