by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist
1. Size and Shape – Medium sized shorebird with a bill slightly shorter than its head. The body tapers to a longish tail. It typically appears to be leaning forward.
2. Color Pattern – During breeding season they have dark spots on their white breast and an orange bill. In winter, there are no spots and their bill is pale yellow. When flying, a thin white stripe can be seen along the wing.
3. Behavior – Often solitary, walking with a “teeter” and constantly bobbing their tales up and down. In flight they have quick wingbeats interspersed with glides. They often whistle a few high notes when taking off.
4. Habitat – Almost anywhere near water including both fresh and saltwater. Seen along rivers, ponds, lakes, beaches and especially on rocky shorelines.
• The Spotted sandpipers teetering motion has earned it many nicknames, including teeter – peep, teeter – bob, teeter – snipe and tip – tail.
• The male Spotter sandpiper takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the young. One female may lay eggs for up to 5 different males during the breeding season.
The Spotted sandpiper, Actitis macularius, a winter resident of Southwest Florida, is one of the most widespread breeding shorebirds in the United States and is seen along all types of water bodies.
Seldom seen in flocks, even where it is common, the Spotter sandpiper or “Spotty” can be seen walking along a shoreline with its characteristic teetering motion, moving up and down. When startled, it flies away quickly out over the water with rapid wingbeats and short glides. Along the shoreline, it forages bot from the ground and the water where it can catch a variety of prey such as insects, crustaceans, earthworms, crabs, crayfish, mollusks and small fish.
The mating system of this sandpiper is quite complicated. First, unlike most birds, the female reaches the breeding range before the male and selects and defends the territory. She may also mate with up to five males during a season, each time producing a clutch of eggs and leaving the male to incubate the eggs and care for the young. The nest consists of a shallow depression lines with grass, moss and occasionally feathers. The nest can be near the water or well away from the water, in cover or in the open, depending on the habitat of the nesting area. Incubation of the eggs lasts just a few weeks and upon hatching, the young are immediately up and about. Like select other shorebirds, the Spotted sandpiper is precocial, able to walk and search for food very quickly after hatching.
Shorebirds aren’t easy to learn but the tell-tale behaviors and visual identification of this one makes the Spotted sandpiper a great one to learn to boost your confidence on shorebird identification. Keep your eyes open on the mudflat edges of any of our island wetland areas this time of the year when the water levels are quite low. That “spotty” might be right there for you to see!