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solitary sandpiper

Tringa solitaria

What do they look like?

The two solitary sandpiper subspecies looks very similar, but they have many distinguishing characteristics. Juveniles are easier to distinguish than adults, though the downy plumage between both subspecies look identical. Adults are medium-sized with greenish legs and a straight, thin bill. In flight, their wings are dark on the underside, contrasting with their white belly. Both subspecies have a white eye ring. Solitary sandpipers are about 19 to 23cm long and weigh 31 to 65g, with an average weight of 48.4g. Females are larger overall than males. (Conover, 1944; Leukering, 2010; Moskoff, 2011)

Juvenile eastern solitary sandpipers (Tringa solitaria solitaria) have a dark brown back that is less olive than western solitary sandpipers (Tringa solitaria cinnamomea) with white or grayish-white spotting on their upper bodies. Their lower throat is usually a dusky color. Most juveniles have non-mottled flight feathers. Female juveniles have larger wingspans than males. Adult eastern solitary sandpipers have spotless outer wing feathers, though they may have some mottling. Their upperparts and loral feathers are dusky blackish with darker flight feathers. The eastern variety is smaller than the western variety, with male wing lengths of 123 to 132.5mm, with an average of 127.5mm, and females wing lengths of 127 to 140mm, with an average of 132.5mm. Juvenile western solitary sandpipers have an olive brown upper back, with buff spots. These buffy spots help tell juveniles western and eastern solitary sandpipers apart; however, these spots can only be seen clearly through September. Juvenile western solitary sandpipers also have a dusky lower throat, though the color is usually in a streak pattern. The flight feathers of western solitary sandpipers are usually mottled. This mottling pattern and the longer wing length of the eastern variety can help tell the subspecies apart. Adult western solitary sandpipers in breeding plumage usually have lighter upper parts that are greyish in color against a dusky olive or brownish plumage. The upper parts of western solitary sandpipers are usually less heavily spotted with white and have more distinct dusky markings on the lower cheeks and throats. The area from the base of the bill to under the eye is usually covered in fine brownish dusky feathers that are lightly spotted. Most members of this subspecies have heavy mottling on the flight feathers. The western variety is larger than the eastern subspecies, with male wing lengths of 128 to 139mm, and an average length of 134.65, and female wing lengths of 137 to 148mm, with an average of 140mm. (Conover, 1944; Leukering, 2010; Moskoff, 2011)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    31 to 65 g
    1.09 to 2.29 oz
  • Average mass
    48.4 g
    1.71 oz
  • Range length
    19 to 23 cm
    7.48 to 9.06 in
  • Range wingspan
    123 to 148 mm
    4.84 to 5.83 in

Where do they live?

Solitary sandpipers (Tringa solitaria) are broken up into two subspecies (Tringa solitaria solitaria and Tringa solitaria cinnamomea). They are migratory shorebirds found across much of North America with a broad breeding range spanning from Labrador, in Canada to Alaska, in the United States. The eastern subspecies (Tringa solitaria solitaria) breeds as far southeast as the Yukon Territory, Canada and migrates throughout the United States, largely east of the Rocky Mountains, and through the West Indies and Central America, to southern South America. The western subspecies (Tringa solitaria cinnamomea) breeds further north, from northeast Manitoba, further northwest to western Alaska. These western birds migrate throughout the United States as well, largely west of the Mississippi River into Central America through to Bolivia, Paraguay, and south-central Argentina. (Conover, 1944; Eldridge, 1992; Leukering, 2010)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Solitary sandpipers are found most commonly along the banks of small, quiet, wooded freshwater bodies of water. During migration, these birds are found along the shores of wooded streams, in narrow marsh channels and along open mudflats. They are also sometimes found in places not usually frequented by other shorebirds including drainage ditches and mud puddles. Solitary sandpipers are mostly a freshwater species, they usually avoid salt water including tidal flats and salt marshes. During breeding season, solitary sandpipers nest near woodland pools in nests created by other birds. Solitary sandpipers breed in the forests of Canada and Alaska, and winter in the tropics, in swamps and along riverbanks. (Conover, 1944; Leukering, 2010; Moskoff, 2011; Oring, 1973)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools

How do they reproduce?

Solitary sandpipers are monogamous, meaning males and females mate in pairs. Breeding pairs form shortly after they arrive on nesting grounds. Males perform a courtship display by calling to females while rising a few meters into the air and beating or quivering their wings and spreading their tail so only the outer feathers are in view. They mate near their feeding locations, away from the nesting area, about five days before the first egg is laid. On mating grounds, males defend a large territory and chase away intruders. When they come across another aggressive male, males either attack or retreat. (Moskoff, 2011; Oring, 1973)

Mating pairs of solitary sandpipers often use abandoned nests created by other birds such as rusty blackbirds and American robins, as well as nests freshly made by other species. The height of their nest can vary, but it is usually 1.2 to 12m above the ground and up to 200m away from the shoreline. Males find the nests and females rearrange them to their liking. Breeding pairs have only one brood per season, with egg-laying beginning in late May, however, in Ontario, Canada, egg-laying may begin as late as June. Their clutches are usually made up of 4 eggs, although they can range from 3 to 5 eggs. Eggs are a pale, greenish-white and are heavily blotched and spotted in reddish-brown or purple splotches. The eggs are incubated for 23 to 24 days before hatching. Young solitary sandpipers are covered in downy feathers; they are very independent and leave the nest shortly after hatching. (Moskoff, 2011; Oring, 1973)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Solitary sandpipers breed once annually.
  • Breeding season
    These birds breed in the spring.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Range time to hatching
    23 to 24 days

Male solitary sandpipers help find the nest that will be used for the breeding pair and the female adjusts the nest to her liking. Solitary sandpipers incubate the eggs until they hatch. Offspring are active, independent, and downy at birth. Newborn solitary sandpipers are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching, once their downy feathers dry. Parents are not known to feed their offspring. (Moskoff, 2011)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

There is no information available about the lifespan of solitary sandpipers. However, other closely related species are known to live up to 7.1 to 26.9 years in the wild. Wood sandpipers have a fairly similar body size to solitary sandpipers and have a maximum wild lifespan 11.6 years. Other sandpipers with a similar, although somewhat larger body size include marsh sandpipers and green sandpipers, which have lifespans of 7.1 and 11.5 years, respectively. Larger relatives, such as common greenshanks and common redshanks have a much longer wild lifespan of 24.4 and 26.9 years, respectively. (Tacutu, et al., 2013)

How do they behave?

Solitary sandpipers are not very social birds and are usually seen alone or in groups of twenty or less. When several solitary sandpipers are together, they usually work together to defend their territories. While foraging for food on land, solitary sandpipers walk along in shallow water, usually around belly height, while nodding their head. These birds wade slowly within the water, and preen and duck beneath the water while bathing. They also regularly pause to scratch their head with one foot. When startled into flight, solitary sandpipers may take off into a flight that goes almost completely straight up. Their flight is generally graceful, although when they become alarmed they may make erratic flights similar to sparrows. When landing, solitary sandpipers hold their wings high above their body and slowly fold them to rest against their body. These birds do not usually fly long distances when they are disturbed, instead they fly across a short distance such as the length of a pond when they are disturbed. (Leukering, 2010; Moskoff, 2011; Oring, 1973)

Home Range

There is no information about the home range of solitary sandpiper. However, during the breeding season, males defend territories. They chase others away or make alarm calls or wing displays; although, solitary sandpipers may build nests as close as 100m from other individuals. In Alberta, Canada, nesting territory size was about 0.5m2. It is unknown if solitary sandpipers are territorial all year, but if they are, territories are probably large. Individuals nest within their territory but do not usually feed in their defended territory. (Leukering, 2010; Moskoff, 2011; Oring, 1973)

How do they communicate with each other?

Solitary sandpipers communicate with each other vocally. There are five different call types and two song types created by adult solitary sandpipers, while chicks perform six different calls. Both males and females sing. Adults perform songs used in reproduction including mate attraction, territory defense, and maintaining a pair bond. Calls include an alarm-flee call, which signals danger, an alarm-attack call to warn others of danger and attract predators, and a contact call, which helps keep family contact during brooding and hatching periods. Their voice is shriller but more evenly pitched than spotted sandpipers, a similar species. (Moskoff, 2011; "Solitary Sandpiper", 2014; Oring, 1968)

What do they eat?

Solitary sandpipers are carnivores and prey on small organisms. Their main food sources are insects, such as mosquito larvae, young midges, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles, as well as small crustaceans, mollusks, such as snails, and frogs, mainly as tadpoles. During the winter months, they eat more invertebrates from the soil or litter, in addition to aquatic invertebrates. Solitary sandpipers forage in shallow water that is about belly-high, and snatch food out of the water with their beak. They will also probe or stir the water and muddy substrate to stir up small creatures from the bottom that they catch and eat while they are fleeing. (Moskoff, 2011)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Little is known about the predators of solitary sandpipers; however, peregrine falcons have been known to feed on them in the Alaskan taiga and in Winnipeg, Canada. Gray jays have also been known to take sandpiper eggs from their nests. To avoid predation of their young, solitary sandpipers have been seen acting as though they are crippled to distract predators while their young hide in a hole in the ground around the roots of an upturned tree stump. When they are in the water, birds swim or dive to avoid predators. When threatened, this species performs flight patterns, such as circles and erratic movements, to lose predators. They also change their posture or perform vocalizations in response to nearby predators. (Moskoff, 2011)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Solitary sandpipers are both predators and prey animals. They impact the population of their food sources, and act as a food resource for their predators. These birds also host many parasites. (Moskoff, 2011; Tallman, et al., 1985)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of solitary sandpipers on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Solitary sandpipers consume insects, which may include insects viewed as pests to humans.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Solitary sandpipers and other shorebirds are losing their wetland habitats, especially in migratory locations. Human disturbance to their habitat puts the species at risk for population decline. Solitary sandpipers are protected under the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act and migrate throughout the United States. (Conover, 1944; Eldridge, 1992; United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013)


Yesenia M Werner (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


National Audubon Society, Inc. 2014. "Solitary Sandpiper" (On-line). Accessed April 12, 2014 at

Conover, B. 1944. The Races of the Solitary Sandpiper. The Auk, 61/4: 537-544.

Eldridge, J. 1992. 13.2.14. Management of Habitat for Breeding and Migrating Shorebirds in the Midwest. Waterfowl Management Handbook, Paper 11: 1-6.

Leukering, T. 2010. Identifying Solitary Sandpiper subspecies: Why and how. Colorado Birds, 44/3: 203-206.

McNeil, R., J. Burton. 1977. Southbound Migration of Shorebirds from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Wilson Bulletin, 89/1: 167-171.

Moskoff, W. 2011. "Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Accessed April 12, 2014 at

Oring, L. 1973. Solitary Sandpiper Early Reproductive Behavior. The Auk, 90/3: 652-663.

Oring, L. 1968. Vocalizations of the Green and Solitary Sandpipers. The Wilson Bulletin, 80/4: 395-420.

Piersma, T. 2006. Understanding the numbers and distribution of waders and other animals in a changing world: Habitat choice as the lock and the key. Stilt, 50: 3-14.

Tacutu, R., T. Craig, A. Budovsky, D. Wuttke,, G. Lehmann, D. Taranukha, J. Costa, V. Fraifeld, J. de Magalhaes. 2013. Human Ageing Genomic Resources: Integrated databases and tools for the biology and genetics of ageing. Nucleic Acids Research, 41(D1): D1027-D1033. Accessed July 29, 2014 at

Tallman, E., K. Corkum, D. Tallman. 1985. The Trematode Fauna of Two Intercontinental Migrants: Tringa solitaria and Calidris melanotos (Aves: Charadriiformes). American Midland Naturalist, 113/2: 374-383.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013. "List of migratory bird species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as of December 2, 2013" (On-line). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program. Accessed February 25, 2014 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Werner, Y. 2014. "Tringa solitaria" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 19, 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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