Long-legged Sandpiper

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Birds of America

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


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[Stilt Sandpiper.]

[Calidris himantopus.]


I have often spoken of the great differences as to size and colour that are observed in birds of the same species, and which have frequently given rise to mistakes, insomuch that the male, the female, and the young, have been considered as so many distinct species. The Long-legged Sandpiper has been treated in this manner, and has latterly reappeared under the name of Tringa Douglassii, in the Fauna Boreali-Americana of my friends RICHARDSON and SWAINSON. BONAPARTE was, in truth, the first who described this bird; and although some differences might be found between his specimen and the one described in the work just mentioned, they are trifling compared with those which I have observed between seven or eight individuals all procured from the same flock at a single shot. It is strange that neither BONAPARTE nor SWAINSON have mentioned the sex of their specimen.

On the morning of the 4th of April, 1837, while seated among the drift wood that had accumulated on the southern shore of the island of Barataria, forty miles from the south-west pass of the Mississippi, and occupied in observing some Pelicans, I saw a flock of about thirty Long-legged Sandpipers alight within ten steps of me, near the water. They immediately scattered, following the margin of the retiring and advancing waves, in search of food, which I could see them procure by probing the wet sand in the manner of Curlews, that is, to the full length of their bill, holding it for a short time in the sand, as if engaged in sucking up what they found. In this way they continued feeding on an extended line of shore of about thirty yards, and it was pleasing to see the alacrity with which they simultaneously advanced and retreated, according to the motions of the water. In about three quarters of an hour, during all which time I had watched them with attention, they removed a few yards beyond the highest wash of the waves, huddled close together, and began to plume and cleanse themselves. All of a sudden they ceased their occupation, stood still, and several of them emitted a sharp tweet-tweet, somewhat resembling the notes of Totantus solitarius; immediately after which seven birds of the same species passed close to me, and alighted near those which I had already watched. They at once began to feed, and as I thought that the first flock might join them, and that I might lose the opportunity of procuring specimens, in sufficient number, I fired and killed eleven. The rest flew off, and were joined by the second group, the whole flying to windward in a compact body, and emitting every now and then their sharp tweet, tweet, until out of sight and hearing.

My son JOHN obtained several of these birds on the same island while they were feeding on the margins of a fresh-water pond; and we saw them on almost every island and bay on our way to the Texas, where we also procured some on Galveston Island.

The flight of these Sandpipers is rapid and regular. They move compactly, and often when about to alight, or after being disturbed, incline their bodies to either side, shewing alternately the upper and lower parts. On foot they move more like Curlews than Tringas, they being as it were more sedate in their deportment. At times, on the approach of a person, they squat on the ground, very much in the manner of the Esquimaux Curlew, Numenius borealis; and their flesh is as delicate as that of the species just named. In the stomach of several individuals I found small worms, minute shell-fish, and vegetable substances, among which were the hard seeds of plants unknown to me. I suspect that in summer and autumn they feed on small fruits and berries, though of this I have no proof.

Among those which we procured, I found the differences in the colour of the plumage quite as great as in Scolopax noveboracensis, some of the younger birds being yet in their winter dress, while the older had already assumed a reddish colour on the cheeks, the top of the head, and the breast. The females were all larger than the males, and differed from each other not only in the markings of the plumage, but also in the length of the bill, to the extent of a quarter of an inch, and of the legs, to a still greater extent. Whether or not this species assumes a uniform reddish tint in the breeding season, such as is observed in the Curlew Sandpiper, Tringa subarquata, I am unable to say, although I am much inclined to think that it does.

Their passage through the United States is very rapid, both in spring and autumn. Some few spend the winter in Lower Louisiana, but nearly all proceed southward beyond the Texas.

TRINGA HIMANTOPUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 316.

TRINGA DOUGLASSII, Swains. Douglass' Sandpiper, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.

Amer., vol. ii. p. 379.

TRINGA HIMANTOPUS, Slender-shank Sandpiper, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 380.

LONG-LEGGED SANDPIPER, Audubon's Stilt Sandpiper, Douglass' Stilt Sandpiper, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. pp. 138, 140, 141.

LONG-LEGGED SANDPIPER, Tringa himantopus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 332.

Male, (7 1/2)-(8 3/4), (15 1/2)-17. Female (8 1/2)-(10 1/2), (16 1/2)-18.

Abundant in Texas in spring. Rare in the Middle Districts. Breeds in the Fur Countries. Migratory.

Male in spring.

Bill much longer than the head, very slender, sub-cylindrical, very slightly decurved, compressed at the base, the end rather depressed, considerably enlarged. Upper mandible with the dorsal line almost straight, being very slightly decurved towards the end, the ridge narrow, convex, flattened towards the tip, the sides sloping, with a narrow groove extending nearly to the end, the edges rather blunt and soft, the tip decurved. Nostrils basal, linear, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle long and very narrow, the dorsal line straight, towards the end slightly deflected, the sides sloping outwards, with a long narrow groove, the tip a little broader.

Head small, oblong, compressed. Eyes small. Neck rather long. Body slender. Feet long, very slender; tibia bare for an inch; tarsus long, slender, compressed, covered before and behind with numerous small scutella; hind toe very small, the rest of moderate length, slender, the second very slightly longer than the fourth, the third very little longer; short basal webs, running out along the margins, that between the third and fourth toes larger. Claws rather long, very slender, slightly arched, tapering, compressed.

Plumage very soft, blended; the feathers somewhat distinct on the back. Wings very long, pointed; primaries tapering, the first longest, the second slightly shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; outer secondaries slightly incurved, obliquely sinuate on the outer web towards the end, the inner web rounded; inner secondaries very narrow, tapering, reaching to three-fourths of an inch of the longest primary when the wing is closed. Tail of moderate length, nearly even, but with the two middle feathers exceeding the rest by two and a half twelfths of an inch, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris brown. Feet dull yellowish-green, claws black. The upper parts are brownish-black, the feathers margined with reddish-white, the edges of the scapulars with serriform markings of the same; rump and upper tail-coverts white, transversely barred with dusky; tail light grey, the feathers white at the base and along the middle. Primary quills and their coverts brownish-black, the inner tinged with grey, the shaft of the outer primary white, secondaries brownish-grey, margined with reddish-white, the inner dusky. A broad whitish line over the eye; loral band dusky; auriculars pale brownish-red; fore part and sides of neck greyish-white, tinged with red, and longitudinally streaked with dusky; the rest of the lower parts pale reddish-brown, transversely barred with dusky; the middle of the breast and the abdomen without markings. Dimensions of five individuals.

Length to end of tail, . . . 8 3/4 8 1/4 7 3/4 8 7 1/2

Length to end of wings, . . . 9 1/4 8 3/8 8 1/4 8 3/4 8 3/4

Length to end of claws, . . . 11 1/4 10 5/8 10 10 1/2 10 7/8

Extent of wings,. . . . . . 16 3/4 16 15 1/2 17 16

Weight of an individual, . . . 2 3/4 oz.


The female is considerably larger, but otherwise resembles the male. Dimensions of five individuals.

Length to end of tail, . . . 10 1/2 11 9 1/4 10 3/4 8 1/2

Length to end of wings, . . . 11 10 3/4 11 3/4 11 1/2 10 1/8

Length to end of claws, . . . 13 1/4 12 1/2 11 1/2 12 3/4 11 3/4

Extent of wings,. . . . . . 18 16 1/2 16 7/8 16 1/2 17 3/4

Weight of two individuals, 4 oz., 3 3/4 oz.

The winter plumage differs considerably; the bill, iris, and feet are as above. The upper parts are brownish-grey, the head narrowly streaked with dusky; the rump as in summer; the scapulars plainly margined with whitish; the quills as in summer. The band over the eye lighter, the loral space grey; the fore part and sides of the neck greyish-white, longitudinally streaked with grey, the sides similar, and with the lower tail-coverts barred with grey, the rest of the lower parts white.

Length to end of tail in a male 9 inches; extent of wings 16 1/2; wing from flexure 5 1/4; tail 2 4/12; bill along the ridge along the edge of lower mandible 1 7/12; bare part of tibia 1; tarsus 1 7/12; hind toe and claw (4 1/4)12; middle toe (9 1/2)12, its claw (2 1/2)/12.

The roof of the mouth is flat, with three rows of papillae. The tongue is 1 inch 5 twelfths long, emarginate and papillate at the base, very slender, concave above, tapering to a point. The oesophagus is 4 inches long, very narrow, its diameter 2 twelfths. The proventriculus is oblong, 7 twelfths in length, 3 1/2 twelfths in diameter. The stomach is a strong gizzard of a roundish form, compressed, 8 twelfths long, 7 1/2 twelfths broad; its lateral muscles large, its epithelium very dense, thick, longitudinally rugous, and of a reddish-brown colour. The intestine is 12 1/2 inches long, its anterior part 2 3/4 twelfths in diameter, the hind part 1 1/2 twelfths. The rectum is 1 1/2 inches long; the coeca 11 twelfths long, 1 twelfth in diameter, obtuse.

The trachea is 3 inches long, slender, its diameter at the upper part 1 3/4 twelfths, gradually diminishing to the lower part, where it is 1 twelfth. The rings, about 110 in number, are slender and unossified, the two last divided. The bronchi have about 15 half rings. The contractor muscles are thin, the sterno-tracheal slender; and there is a pair of inferior laryngeal muscles going to the first bronchial rings.

In another individual, the intestine was 13 1/2 inches long, the rectum 1 1/2 inches, the coeca 1 inch.

The contents of the gizzard in both were fragments of shells, small black seeds, and much sand and gravel.

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