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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Shore Birds {Waders}  -1 The Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos.

The common sandpiper is a wide spread species, much more so than its relatives the green and wood sandpipers. They belong to the family Scolopacidae and the Order Charadriiformes.

The Charadriiforms is an Order of birds that includes the genera Scolopacidae {sand pipers and relatives}  Phalaropidae {Phalaropes} Recurvirostridae {Avocets and Stilts} Haematopodidae { Oyster catchers} Burhnidae {Thick knees} glareolidae {Pratincoles and Coursers} Stercoraridae {Skuas} Laridae { Gulls} Sternidae {Terns} and Alcidae {Auks}.

Common sandpipers occur in the UK. from March to October and a few may over winter, although the majority go to Africa for the winter months. 

Common sandpipers

Photo courtesy of Matt Poole

The genus name of Actisis derives from the Greek aktites indicating a coast dweller. The species name hypoleucos is from the Greek hypo-meaning below+ leukos meaning white.

photograph courtesy of Marek Szczepanek CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

It is typically a freshwater bird, but is sometimes encountered on rocky shores. Common sandpipers locate their prey visually {As opposed to probing}, confining their activities to wet edges, rather then wading as is the case with many shorebirds. They often wash their prey before eating it. They feed on insects, including water beetles, flies, stoneflies, mayflies, mosquito larvae, water spiders, small crustaceans, molluscs, small worms, small frogs and tadpoles, small fish and occasionally some plant material.

Description of the common Sandpiper.

The breeding adult is olive-brown above, intricately marked with dark brown streaks, arrow heads and irregular bars on either side of the chest, there are clouded olive brown oval patches, the rest of the under parts are white.

The winter adult is much more uniformly olive brown above with wing coverts obscurely barred, and the side of the chest thinly streaked.They have a dark brown bill with an ochre base, and the legs are grey green, rarely yellow green..

In relation to its body size the wings are medium long, tail medium short, neck medium short, bill medium long and the legs medium length. 

They typically fly low over the water, with a shrill call and flickering wings, held momentarily on the downward stroke, when they appear distinctly bowed. walks or runs on ground, wades in water {when appropriate} and will perch on low objects, bobbing both head and tail {a good diagnostic feature}.

Breeding-nest and eggs.

Males tend to return to their breeding territories slightly ahead of the females. They hold linear territories along rocky shores, gravel pits, along rocky streams and pebbly shores of rivers, lakes or even ponds. { Outside the breeding season they may visit almost any kind of freshwater, both standing and flowing}

The nest is little more than a scrape or hollow, sheltered by vegetation and lines with a few strands of grasses and pieces of debris. The clutch usually numbers 4 but may be 3-5. The eggs are cream coloured, spotted pretty evenly with rather small markings of dark and light brown -grey. they are pear shaped, which is common among sandpipers.

Incubation is carried out by both parents and takes about 21 days. The young are cared for by both parents, they fledge at 26-28 days.  The birds produce a single brood per season. The young are capable of breeding at the age of two years.

Conservation issues.

The common sandpiper is on the Amber list of Conservation Concern. Populations have declined between 25-50% over the last 30 years or so. it is also a bird of European concern. they are relatively widespread on upland rivers in the summer months.

British population size 1,150 to 1,152 pairs in 2000.

Winter birds latest figures from WeBS survey { non breeding birds}---

July 872, August-829, September-204, October-63, November-42. 

 The majority of birds over winter in west Africa . Over wintering birds start to arrive back there during August and September. 

Pectoral sandpiper

photo courtesy of the USFWS

Wood sandpiper

Photo courtesy of Glen Elison

Common sandpiper

Photo courtesy of USFWS

Spotted sandpiper

Photo courtesy of A Boyd

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