Garden News Blog

Birds of Brooklyn: Spotted Sandpiper

With spring migration upon us, we have a chance to see and appreciate some unusual birds that migrate through the area. One of them is the spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius), which is usually found on the shoreline of ponds and lakes. That’s not to say that it won’t also be seen on ocean beaches, but freshwater ponds and lakes are the species’ preferred habitat. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Central Park, and Prospect Park are good places to see this bird.

The spotted sandpiper gets its name from the spots that appear on its breast and belly during the breeding season. In winter these spots disappear, and identifying the bird becomes somewhat difficult. However, you can still tell this species, in all seasons, by its distinct habit of teetering as it walks. It teeters more than any bird I’ve ever seen, and it teeters even more when it gets nervous. Its flight pattern is also distinctive—it flutters a bit as it flies, and its wingtips are pointed down.

More: The Blackburnian warbler is a colorful migratory bird with a lovely song.

Similar looking sandpipers are the lesser yellowlegs, least sandpiper, and solitary sandpiper. All have yellow or yellowish legs, but nobody can teeter like the spotted sandpiper.

The spotted sandpiper is not a breeder in NYC, but it is a probable breeder on eastern Long Island and in many areas just outside city limits. The city and its parks are just too busy for this bird to nest, but it breeds in almost every state in the U.S. and has somewhat unusual breeding behaviors. The female mates with several males, lays the eggs, sometimes of mixed parentage, and then lets the males incubate and raise the young.

With spring migration just starting to get underway, now is an excellent time to study up on the spotted sandpiper and make it a must-see bird.

The Birds of Brooklyn series looks at some of the most familiar and fascinating birds that call Kings County their habitat.

Joe Giunta has led bird walks for the Nature Conservancy and the South Fork Natural History Society and taught a beginning birding course for Summer Fest. He has birded extensively in the U.S., Panama, Belize, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.

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Image, top of page:
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) during breeding season, with its spots. Photo by Dominic Sherony.
Spotted Sandpiper
During winter, the spotted sandpiper loses its spots, as seen in this photo taken in December in Columbia. Photo by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo.