Quick Facts

Length: -
Height: 20 cm
Weight: 60 grams
Colour: -
Habitat: Open sandy beaches at the edge of the waves, on sandbars and spits.
Food: Insects, arthropods, small crustaceans. Seeds and buds are eaten at nesting sites.
Predators: -
Status: NSW - Vulnerable. Secure in all other States and Territories

The Sanderling is a tiny, pale grey wader, seen darting along shorelines. The upper body is grey, with white below. The bill is dark, thick at the base and slightly drooped at the tip. The legs are short and black and lacking a hind toe. The flight is flickering and a prominent white wingbar is obvious. When in breeding plumage, the head, neck and breast is rufous.

The Sanderling is slightly larger than the Red-necked Stint, with a longer, heavier bill, and smaller than the Curlew Sandpiper. In flight the large white wingbar is obvious, as is its way of dashing along the beach in front of the waves.

Sanderlings are found very widely along Australian coastlines and are regular visitors to New Zealand. The species could be considered cosmopolitan, being found along the coastline in many other countries. They breed from north America to north Russia and islands in the Arctic Ocean.

Sanderlings are found on open sandy beaches at the edge of the waves, on sandbars and spits. They roost on bare sand in the dunes or behind piles of kelp.

This is a migratory species, breeding mostly in Siberia, moving south with different breeding populations moving to different areas. The Sanderlings migrating to Australia and south-east Asia probably breed on New Siberian Island, leaving mid-July to mid-August and juveniles a little later. They fly in large flocks, flying huge distances without stopping. They arrive in Australia from September and leave the Sydney area by early April. Small numbers over-winter here.
The Sanderling is a remarkable long-distance flier and builds up huge reserves of fat for fuel for the journey before migrating. Flights may be 5000 kilometres.

A Sanderling will feed busily and briskly on the shoreline, jabbing its bill in the sand, snatching at prey, then retreating from the waves - like a clockwork toy. They eat mainly insects and other arthropods and small crustaceans, by day and night. They also eat seeds and buds on their nesting grounds.

Sanderlings breed in the high Arctic tundra so the breeding season is short, lasting about eight weeks. They may even lay two clutches in North Canada, one incubated by the male and one by the female. Generally, pairs share incubation, in a shallow nest which is usually unlined and in an exposed position.

Threats on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the migration route to Australia) include economic and social pressures such as wetland destruction and change, pollution and hunting.

Author: Rosalyn Plunkett
Last Updated: Friday 6th September, 2013
BirdLife Australia -


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