Sanderlings, Calidris alba are one of the tiny shorebirds that race along the edges of the waves. I love watching them; they’re so busy and energetic, probing the sand for tiny crustaceans at the edge of each wave. These tiny birds embark on an amazing migration to the Arctic tundra for breeding. Not every bird makes that migration annually: we have seen them on our shores every month of the year. Imagine how many tiny organisms they need to pull from the sand to be able to bulk up for such an incredible journey. They are one of the predators of coquinas.
In the winter, they are all white underneath. Some of the best field signs are the fact that it’s a pretty chunky bird with a black, straight bill and black legs. They’re 7-8″ long; about the size of a Dunlin. They lack back toes, but that can be hard to see if they’re running along. I find one of the most reliable field signs to be that dark shoulder patch which is visible in both breeding and non breeding plumage. Right now, in December, they look like this:
But in late spring, they begin to bulk up and their upper colors darken as they get ready for migration.
There are several peeps that can be confused with Sanderlings, so that “edge-of-the-wave” running behavior can also be an identification clue. Shorebirds are definitely hard to identify: I will be working on my skills this year and you can stay tuned: we might even do a shorebird workship online.