Littlest Least

The Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is the smallest member of the grouping known as “Shorebirds”. When one thinks of a sandpiper (or peeps as they are known to birders) the image of a little bird with long legs running to and from the water as the waves lap the beach often comes to mind. But most peeps don’t live at the beach and only a very few nest there. Sandpipers are a highly diverse family which includes the snipe, curlew, stint, woodcock and the highly pelagic Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius. Encompassing over 200 species, identification of individual species can be very difficult. This is complicated further if you don’t know if the bird is a juvenile, sub-adult or adult. So the identification rests not only on what the bird looks like, but also on the knowledge of what age sandpipers are seen at that geographical location at each season and their behavior (how they feed, where they feed, is it in a flock).  For example, if you see a sandpiper foraging in the grass – it probably isn’t a peep, but a type of plover called Killdeer. Knowing the habits of peeps in the area can be crucial to identification. The population estimates of the Least Sandpiper are probably underreported since they tend to get lumped in with other small sandpipers. The data amassed to help scientists differentiate between the sandpiper species is astounding, yet a solitary bird will often be misidentified. Least Sandpiper 101…Look for a sandpiper that is about five inches tall (that’s really small!), has yellowish legs and is by itself or with a small group. Look near or just inside the vegetation line on mudflats as the Least Sandpiper doesn’t usually [...]