Nature Bulletin No. 672-A March 25, 1978
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Along streams we often see small spindle-legged birds busily searching
for food near the water's edge. They have a curious habit of wagging the
hind part of their bodies up and down. If we approach them they fly,
crying "peet weet. " We also see them around sloughs, ponds and lakes
in the forest preserves.
Those are Spotted Sandpipers, commonly called "teeter-tails, " "tip-ups,
" or "peet weets. " This species, most widely distributed of all the
sandpipers, is also unique in having round black spots on its white
underparts. The back is olive brown. They nest from Alaska and
northern Canada to southern California and the Gulf of Mexico,
wintering from there to Brazil and Peru.
The Sandpiper Family includes almost 100 species of shore birds.
There are 31 that occur regularly in the Americas and four of them nest
in Chicagoland -- the spotted sandpiper, the upland plover or Bartram's
sandpiper, the woodcock (described in Bulletin No. 123-A) and, rarely,
the Wilson's snipe or jacksnipe.
Most species of this family nest far north and are seen in the United
States only when migrating. The curlews, godwits, the knot, and several
sandpipers travel along our seacoasts but seldom through the Chicago
region. The greater and the lesser yellowlegs, dowitcher, jacksnipe,
sanderling, and five of the sandpipers are common or fairly common
migrants observed by bird watchers here.
Along the shores of Lake Michigan and on mud flats around Wolf Lake
and Lake Calumet, mixed flocks of these shore birds congregate to feed
on small mollusks and crustaceans, worms, insects and little fish. It is
fun to watch some kinds chase a receding wave and scamper back
ahead of the next one. To the casual onlooker they all appear much
alike except that some are larger than others and some, like the "teeter-
tail, " have peculiar mannerisms.
In general, the sandpipers are small or medium in size. Their bills are
slender and straight but vary considerably in length. They have long,
pointed wings, short stiff tails, and relatively long skinny legs. The hind
toes are short and the long front toes -- except, partially, on the little
Semi-palmated Sandpiper -- are not webbed. All but one kind make
shallow nests on the ground.
That exception is the Solitary Sandpiper. All of its eggs discovered so
far were in deserted nests of other birds in Canada. During migrations it
is commonly found here along streams and around woodland ponds.
About 8 inches long and a little larger than the spotted sandpiper, it is
distinguished by the habit, when alighting, of holding its wings high
above the back for a moment and then, after folding them, of bobbing
its head and bowing in an amusing manner.
The Least Sandpiper, about 6 inches long, and the semi-palmated, a
trifle larger, are abundant here during migrations, and also, in grassy
wetlands, the Pectoral Sandpiper which inflates its chest to utter sounds
like someone blowing across the top of a bottle. The Upland Plover,
formerly nesting and abundant on midwestern prairies, has become
scarce because they were converted into farm lands and because -- like
the woodcock, jacksnipe and some other species -- it was prized as a
game bird and wantonly destroyed.
If you want to learn more about sandpipers and their kin, we
recommend the Audubon Water Bird Guide published by Doubleday
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Update: June 2012