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HomeSpitsbergen informationWildlife → Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

If during a walk on the beach suddenly a small grey-brown bird with a splayed, supposedly injured wing runs very close in front of you, it could be a Purple sandpiper. The bird plays injured to lure alleged predators away.

Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper.

Description: The Purple sandpiper is a small, sturdy wader (21 cm long, weight 60-100 g) with a 3 cm long, slightly down-bent beak. The sexes look alike. During summer, the plumage is brownish with a pale belly. Amongst the small birds that occur on the coast, often on the beach, and in the tundra of Spitsbergen, the Purple sandpiper is the most common one and it is not unusual to see several together.

Distribution/Migrations: Purple sandpipers occur from northeastern Canada to northwestern Russia. In Svalbard, they breed on flat, dry tundra. In early May, they come to the breeding areas and stay to September or even later. They spend the winter in Scandinavia.

Biology: Purple sandpipers live on crustaceans and insects and accordingly spend a lot of time on the shoreline and in the tidal zone, searching for food.

Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper looking for food in the tidal zone. Coraholmen.

They can also be seen further inland and at some altitude. Breeding pairs build a nest of plant material on the tundra. Both parents take their share of incubating, altogether about four weeks, but the male spends most time on the eggs and with the offspring, leaving the nest soon after hatching.

Miscellaneous: If you approach too close to the nest, the Purple sandpiper pretends to be injured and runs away, catching your eye with a raised wing, trying to lead the potential predator away from the nest. If you see this, you must move away quickly to make sure that eggs and chicks are not exposed any longer than necessary. You can follow the bird until it flies back, as it will lead you away from the nest. But when looking for food on the beach, Purple sandpipers are not shy and are quite easy to observe.

Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpipers.


last modification: 2019-02-23 · copyright: Rolf Stange