The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 3, 2008


Biodiversity Corner : Solitary Sandpiper (tringa solitaria)

The Solitary Sandpiper is one of a group of birds known collectively as “shorebirds”– birds that forage along the shores of freshwater and coastal wetlands.

This Solitary Sandpiper was photographed at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, using a digital camera through a 32x spotting scope. (Photo by Tom Brownrigg)

Shorebirds in Carlisle are seen mainly during their spring and fall migrations, although one sandpiper and one plover species, the Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) and the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), have nested at the Cranberry Bog. Large flocks of shorebirds migrate along coastal areas, and birders flock to places like the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (aka “Plum Island”), near Newburyport, to see them. Smaller numbers of shorebirds migrate inland and utilize fresh water habitats.

The Solitary Sandpiper is not strictly “solitary,” although it is generally found in small numbers during migration. At the Cranberry Bog, we often see them with Least Sandpipers, a much smaller bird. The Solitary Sandpiper is medium-sized (about the size of an American Robin) with small white spots on its upper wings and back, yellow-green legs, and a white “eye ring.”

Solitary Sandpipers eat a variety of animal food including mosquito larvae, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, dragonfly nymphs, spiders, worms, flies, minnows and tadpoles. Solitary Sandpipers breed in boreal forests of Canada and Alaska and winter in Central and South America.

Unlike the vast majority of sandpipers, the Solitary Sandpiper does not lay its eggs in a nest on the ground, but uses the abandoned tree nests of other species such as the American Robin, Rusty Blackbird, and Eastern Kingbird.

The best times to look for Solitary Sandpipers during their fall migration is from July through mid-October, although there have been sightings at other locations in November. In the spring, they migrate through Carlisle during April and May. In Carlisle (and also Chelmsford), probably the best place to look for shorebirds are the Cranberry Bog impoundments, especially when water levels are low, exposing mudflats.

Another very good spot is the “manure pit” (aka the “sand pit”) located across Curve Street from the bog house. The Solitary Sandpiper seems particularly fond of cow manure, and we have seen these birds foraging around manure piles at Great Brook Farm State Park corn fields near Curve Street.ß


1. Moskoff, William. Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

3. Veit, Richard R. and Petersen, Wayne R., Birds of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon Society.

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito