How do I recognize it?
The Semipalmated Sandpiper is a small, short-necked shorebird about the size of a House Sparrow. It has a moderately long bill that sometimes droops slightly at the tip. Its back is greyish-brown, the tail and the centre of the rump are black. The relatively long legs are also black. The chest usually has only light markings. Juveniles are similar to adults, with a “scalier” pattern on the back. This ‘peep’ is very similar in appearance to the Least Sandpiper but it has yellow legs.
Is it migratory?
Yes. Western and some central Arctic breeding populations migrate through the Prairies, anywhere between late April and mid-June and again through July (adults) and August (juveniles). It is thought that eastern populations may travel non-stop from New England or eastern Canada to the coast of South America, about a 2000 mile journey. You can visit the MOTUS Wildlife Tracking System webpage (a program of Bird Studies Canada) to see where Semipalmated and White-rumped Sandpipers were recorded during their fall 2014 migration between James Bay stopover and the East Coast.
Where does it live?
The Semipalmated Sandpiper winters mostly on northern and central coasts of South America. It breeds in low and sub-arctic tundra, usually near water.
Where can I see it?
The best time to see them is during migration. They can be found frequenting beaches, mud-flats, sewage lagoons, sloughs and marshes along with other shorebirds. In Manitoba, some of the best places to find them are at Churchill, Whitewater Lake, Delta and Oak Hammock marshes.
Although still a common shorebird, its numbers have steadily declined over the past 22 years and it is now considered globally Near-threatened. Prior to the 1930s, this was one of the most abundant breeding shorebirds near Churchill but breeding in Manitoba is now very rare (The Birds of Manitoba).
How can I help them?
Conserving wetlands, including shallow ephemeral wetlands, is one of the most important things we can do to help this species, and other birds that use the same habitats. Taking part in local bird monitoring programs, such as IBA (Important Bird Areas), will assist in identifying habitats necessary for migrating populations in the province. These data will further efforts to protect these environments now and in the future.
Did you know?
The Semipalmated Sandpiper is named after its feet – “semipalmated” refers to the slight webbing between the toes. The oldest recorded individual was at least 14 years, 2 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in New Brunswick.