Breeding Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted sandpipers (Actitis macularius) are the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. Monotypic, during the mating season spotted sandpipers have bold spots on their breasts, lighter yellow legs and bills that are mostly yellow to orange. This spotted sandpiper was feeding in the spillway between Crystal and Baum Lakes, Shasta County CA.

Sexual roles are reversed in spotted sandpipers. The larger, more aggressive females return to the nesting grounds before the males, establish and defend territory and perform courtship rituals. Being polyandrous, females will mate with four or five males, who then care for the eggs and young. Females are able to store sperm for up to a month, thus the eggs laid for one male may actually be fertilized from a previous mating. Of course, there are exceptions to every “rule” and a few spotted sandpiper pairs are monogamous with the female even helping a little with the eggs and the young, particularly the last brood of the season.

Most sandpipers nest only in the far north, but spotted sandpipers summer over much of North America. A spotted sandpiper nest is a depression in the soil lined with dead grass and woody material. The female often starts building the nest which is then finished by the male. Young spotted sandpipers leave the nest shortly after hatching and are able to feed themselves.

Spotted sandpipers are usually solitary and do not often form flocks as other sandpipers do.

From role reversal and sociability to nesting range this little sandpiper does not always follow the script.

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