The Pectoral Sandpiper

The definitive website on wildbirds & nature

Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


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[Pectoral Sandpiper.]

[Calidris melanotos.]


This Sandpiper is not uncommon along the shores of our Eastern States in autumn and winter. It has also lately been found in England, and I have seen a specimen of it in the possession Of WILLIAM YARRELL, Esq. of London, who received it from a person who had shot it not far from the metropolis. I first met with this species in the immediate vicinity of Dennisville, in the State of Maine, feeding on the rocky bars of the river at low water. In the neighbourhood of Boston it is more abundant than elsewhere. Mr. NUTTALL states, that "they are killed in abundance on the shores of Cohasset, and other parts of Massachusetts Bay, and are brought in numbers to the market of Boston, being very fat and well-flavoured." "They arrive," he adds, "in flocks about the close of August, and continue there, as well as in New Jersey, till the month of September. In some instances solitary individuals have been killed in the marshes of Charles river, in Cambridge, about the 22nd of July; these were in company with flocks of small Sandpipers (T. Wilsonii), but whether pairs may perhaps breed in the neighbouring marshes or not, we have not had the means of ascertaining. While here, they feed on small coleoptera, larvas, and the common green Ulva latissima, as well as some species of fucus or sea-weed, on which they become fat. They utter a low plaintive whistle when started, very similar to that of other species. Like the Snipe they seem fond of damp meadows and marshes, and solitary individuals are often surprised by the sportsman in the manner of that bird."

I have observed that the flight of the Pectoral Sandpiper resembles that of the Knot, and is firm, rapid, and well sustained. It skims rather low over the surface of the water or the land, and at times shoots high up into the air, propelling itself with double rapidity and in perfect silence. It runs with great agility, and probes the sand or wet earth, immersing its bill up to the base. I never saw this species in any part of the interior. Its places of resort during the breeding season, and the changes of plumage which it undergoes, are unknown.

TRINGA PECTORALIS, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bonap. Amer. Orn., vol. iv. p. 44.
TRINGA PECTORALIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 318.
PECTORAL SANDPIPER, Tringa pectoralis, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 111.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER, Tringa pectoralis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 601;vol. v. p. 582.

Male, 9 1/4, 18.

From Nova Scotia to Maryland, along the coast. Rather common. Migratory. Breeds in the north.

Adult Male in summer.

Bill rather longer than the head, slender, sub-cylindrical, straight, flexible, compressed at the base, the point rather depressed and obtuse. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight, slightly decurved towards the end, the ridge convex, towards the end a little flattened, at the point convex, the sides sloping, the edges rather blunt and soft. Nasal groove extending to near the tip; nostrils basal, linear, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle long and very narrow, the dorsal line straight, the sides nearly erect, with a long narrow groove, the tip a little broader but tapering.

Head of moderate size, oblong, compressed. Eyes rather large. Neck of moderate length. Body rather slender. Feet of moderate length, slender; tibia bare for a considerable length; tarsus compressed, anteriorly and posteriorly with numerous small scutella; hind toe very small; the rest rather long, slender, the fourth slightly longer than the second, the third longest, all free, scutellate above, flat beneath, slightly marginate; claws rather small, slightly arched, compressed, acute, that of third toe much larger, with the inner edge dilated.

Plumage very soft, blended beneath, slightly distinct above. Wings long and pointed; primaries tapering, obtuse, the first longest, the second considerably shorter, the rest regularly graduated; outer secondaries short, obliquely rounded, the inner elongated and tapering. Tail of twelve feathers, rather short, nearly even, but with the middle feathers much longer and pointed, the rest rounded.

Bill dull olive-green, dusky towards the point. Iris hazel. Feet dull yellowish-green; claws dusky. Upper part of the head reddish-brown, the central part of each feather brownish-black; a faint whitish line from the bill to a little beyond the eye; lores dusky; sides of the head and anterior and lateral parts of the neck, with a portion of the breast, light brownish-grey, marked with dark brown lines; chin and the rest of the lower parts white. The feathers on the upper parts are brownish-black, edged with reddish-brown, those on the wings lighter, primary quills dusky; the outer secondaries tinged with grey, the inner like the feathers of the back. Tail-feathers light brownish-grey, slightly margined and tipped with white, the two central dark, like the back.

Length to end of tail 9 1/4 inches, to end of wings 9 1/4; to end of claws 10 1/2; extent of wings 18; wing from flexure 5 10/12; tail 2 7/12; bill along the ridge 1 1/4, along the edge of lower mandible 1 2/12; bare part of tibia (5 1/2)/12, tarsus 1 (1 1/2)/12, middle toe 7/8, its claw 3/12. Weight 6 oz.

Adult Female in summer.

The female, which is a little larger, is similar to the male.

Mouth very narrow, its width 2 1/2 twelfths. Palate with two rows of reversed papillae. Tongue very slender, tapering, channelled above, 11 twelfths long. OEsophagus 4 1/2 inches long, its average width 2 1/2 twelfths; proventriculus 3 1/2 twelfths. Stomach oblique, roundish, 10 twelfths long, 9 twelfths in breadth; its lateral muscles large; epithelium dense, longitudinally rugous. Contents of stomach remains of small crustacea, seeds, and fragments of quartz. Intestine 11 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 twelfths wide; coeca 1 1/4 inches long, 1 twelfth in width, 1 inch 5 twelfths distant from the extremity; rectum 2 twelfths in width slightly dilated at the end. Trachea 3 1/4 inches long, 2 twelfths in breadth, much flattened; the rings 102, slender, unossified. Bronchi wide, of about 12 half rings. Muscles as in the other species of this family. Male.

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