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Spotted Sandpiper

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Doing the Funky Chicken with a Bird in Hand

They say that pets, especially dogs, reflect their owners. Laid-back people have laid-back dogs. Uptight people have uptight dogs. I mean, if you own a Chihuahua… just saying. Perhaps what this means is that the personality of a dog breed might reflect the personality of the people who fancy those breeds.


Dog breeds do have distinct personalities, and I suppose, in a way, so do bird species. Hawks and eagles are the stoic, silent types; nuthatches and chickadees are the busybodies who can’t sit still; and house sparrows… well, in my book they’re those irritating gadflies that won’t leave you alone. But one of most unusual of all is the Spotted Sandpiper—our bird of the month. This bird, to me, is funky!  Why? Because it seems that with every third step the bird pauses and dances the funky chicken. Quite incredible, even shameless.


What’s up with this bird?  It is as if it has a heavy backbeat stuck in its head and every few steps it has to pause and shake its booty: step, step, step… shake, shake, shake… step, step, step… shake, shake, shake. And then it will suddenly fly off, hollering some manic tweets as if its tail was on fire! Weirdness wrapped in a plain, shorebird package. I kid you not.


“Quick, bird writer, describe this bird so I can protect my children from it!” No, the bird’s not dangerous, it is just, um … (how do I say it) … different. Hey, we’re supposed to celebrate diversity, right? Well, they don’t get more “diverse” than the Spotted Sandpiper! But you’d never know by looking at it, except for those sudden gotta-bust-it-loose dance moves!


The Spotted Sandpiper, as its name suggests, is a spotted sandpiper. Sandpipers as a family are very similar in build, being rather horizontal in carriage. The Spotted Sandpoint is robin-sized and can be found snatching and plucking food bits from the edge of the lakes of our region. They are a buffy-brown or gray color on top, with a white throat, breast, and belly. The breast and belly are also speckled with wonderfully large spots—each bird having its own distinct collection. The head has a prominent black eye stripe that is bordered above with white. The stripe extends from the beak, through the dark eye, and toward the back of the head. The orangish–colored beak is fairly long and relatively thin and pointed—perfect for picking through the sand or muck of shorelines in search of something tasty.  Their long legs are yellow.


Like some other related shorebirds, the Spotted Sandpiper practices a reproductive lifestyle that is contrary to most bird species in the world, but one that the more ardent feminists heartily endorse. The dominant sex among these sandpipers is the female, who when not dancing to that funky beat, is the one that stakes out a territory and competes for males. Though similar in plumage, she is more aggressive and actually practices a form of polyandry, meaning she has more than one mate. The male incubates the eggs and raises the kids. The female might lay up to four different clutches with four different males, though she will raise the final batch herself. 


These are fun birds to watch. They are common, being almost anywhere there is a large body of water. They are not particularly shy around people and can often be found near marinas and beaches. You might also keep an eye out for their crazy flight pattern, as they skim fairly low across the water, seemingly flapping a bit too quickly and tweetering in a crazy fashion. This is one funny bird, in every connotation of that word.  


The Spotted Sandpiper puts a bit of spice into bird watching. The world is a more wonderful place when we can better understand these critters we watch through our binoculars, as being more than simply a check-off on our life lists. They are cool, every single one of them, in their own way. Or weird. Happy birding!

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Author info

Michael Turnlund Michael Turnlund is a Sandpoint resident who teaches at Clark Fork High School. An avid birder, he's happy to share his knowledge of the area's avian wildlife

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A Bird in Hand, Spotted Sandpiper

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