Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)

A long-legged brown bird with a spotted breast pauses at the edge of the water.

Birds Home


A spotted sandpiper pair reverses the traditional roles found in most other bird species in a number of interesting ways. The female spotted sandpiper, for instance, migrates early to arrive at a potential nesting site before the male. She is the one that establishes the territory by driving other females away. After mating and laying her eggs, she abandons the the male who must then take on all of the parental duties of incubation and caring for the chicks.

The female, freed from her parental duties, then seeks out and mates with one or more additional males, leaving each with a clutch of eggs.

Nests are scrapes in bare soil lined with grasses usually close to water. Chicks are precocial, leaving the nest shortly after hatching and are capable of finding their own food, although the male still protects them. Like the killdeer, the spotted sandpiper male may lead predators away from the nest or young by using a "broken" wing distraction display.

Look for spotted sandpipers along sandy or muddy shorelines within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Fascinating Facts

  • This elegant bird "dips," dropping the rear of the body repeatedly while feeding or walking. Why certain birds do this is somewhat of a mystery, but some researchers suggest that dipping may be a form of communication to others of its kind. Dipping may also suggest to predators that the bird is healthy and fit, making an attack less likely.


  • Key ID Features: Long-legged, robin-sized wading bird is olive brown above. Breast is white and heavily spotted during spring and summer, but spots are missing in fall.
  • Present in Park: Mid-April through early October. Check for these birds at Hidden Falls, Crosby Farmand Coon Rapids (east and west) Regional Parks.
  • Habitat: Sandy or muddy flats and shorelines along lakes and rivers. Nests in grassy upland areas usually near water.
  • Voice: A series of "wheeps".

Last updated: March 16, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center.

Contact Us