The Purple Sandpiper

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Birds of America

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


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[Purple Sandpiper.]

[Calidris maritima.]


I am surprised that my worthy friend THOMAS NUTTALL speaks of this species as being scarcely ever seen in the United States, where, to my knowledge, it is on the contrary very abundant, and nowhere more so than in the neighbourhood of the Harbour of Boston, in the markets of which city it is sold in autumn and winter. When I was there, a gunner whom I employed brought me several dozens, which he had killed in the course of a single afternoon. I have also seen some in the markets of New York. Farther south, however, they are rarely met with.

Timid though not shy, they are seen in flocks of eight or ten, on the rocky shores of the sea. They seem to shun sandy beaches, and seldom advance far inland. While I was on the Bay of Fundy, I observed numerous small flocks winging their way northward, in the month of May. On one occasion, a flock alighted almost at my feet, so that I was obliged to retire to a proper distance before shooting at them.

Their flight is pretty rapid, and when necessary sustained, for I have observed them flying in compact bodies across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. When started along the shores, they emit a feeble weet, which is repeated two or three times, take a sweep over the water, and return to the same spot or near it, somewhat in the manner of the Spotted Sandpiper. They are generally very busy while searching for food, run nimbly with the body lowered on the legs, which are much bent, go to the edge of the water, seize on small shell-fish, shrimps and worms, and search industriously among the sea-weeds for marine insects. Their marked predilection for rocky shores has caused them to be named "Rock Snipes" by the gunners of our eastern coast. In autumn and winter the young birds become fat, and afford delicate eating.

I was sadly disappointed at not finding them breeding on any part of the coast of Labrador which I visited, the more so because Dr. RICHARDSON says they are abundant on the shores of Hudson's Bay, where they breed. He gives no description of the nest or localities on which they deposit their eggs, which are said to be "pyriform, 16 1/2 lines long, and an inch across at their greatest breadth. Their colour is yellowish-grey, interspersed with small irregular spots of pale brown, crowded at the obtuse end, and rare at the other."

TRINGA MARITIMA, Bonap. Syn., p. 318.
TRINGA MARITIMA, Purple Sandpiper, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 382.

PURPLE SANDPIPER, Tringa maritima, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 558.

Male, 9 1/2, 14 3/4.

Abundant from Maine to New York, in autumn and spring. Breeds in Hudson's Bay, and on Melville Island.

Adult in summer.

Bill longer than the head, almost straight, subulate, compressed at the base, flexible; upper mandible with the dorsal line almost straight, being slightly deflected towards the end, the ridge narrow and convex, towards the end broader, the sides sloping, the edges rather obtuse. Nostrils basal, lateral, linear; nasal groove extending to near the end of the bill. Lower mandible with the angle long and very narrow, the dorsal line beyond it slightly concave, the sides sloping upwards with a narrow groove, the tip rounded.

Head rather small, oblong, compressed. Neck shortish. Body full. Feet of moderate length, slender; tibia bare for a short space; tarsus rather short, compressed, anteriorly covered with scutella, laterally reticulated; toes of moderate length, excepting the first, which is very small, third longest and including the claw longer than the tarsus, fourth slightly longer than second; fore toes scutellate above, without webs at the base, the middle one with an inner thickish margin, the lateral each with an outer one; claws considerably curved, compressed, obtuse, that of hind toe very small, of middle toe largest, with a dilated thin inner edge.

Plumage soft, blended, on the back rather compact, the feathers rounded. Wings rather long, pointed; primaries tapering, rounded, the first longest, the second slightly shorter; outer secondaries short, obliquely truncate, inner elongated and tapering. Tail short, rounded, the central feathers elongated.

Bill deep orange, towards the end dusky. Edges of eyelids grey, iris orange. Feet light orange, claws dusky. Head greyish-brown, tinged with purple, its sides and those of the neck deep purple; back and wings brownish-black, with purple reflections, the margins of the feathers white; quills brownish-black, their shafts, the tips of all the secondaries, and the greater part of the middle ones, white; middle tail-feathers brownish-black, tinged with purple, the lateral shaded into ash-grey. Upper part of throat greyish-white, fore neck grey; breast, sides, and abdomen white.

Length to end of tail 9 1/2, to end of wings 9 4/12, to end of claws 10; extent of wings 14 3/4; wing from flexure 5, tail 2 1/2; bill along the back 1 5/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 5/12; tarsus 11/12; middle toe 11/12, its claw 3/12. Weight 3 1/4 oz.

Adult in winter.

The principal differences in the winter plumage are, that the lower parts are pale grey, while the upper have the purple tints much fainter, the white edgings substituted by dull grey.

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