I recently spent a wonderful week at North Carolina’s Outer Banks with my sister and my niece.  One of the joys for me of this special week was watching the sandpipers on the shore.

     It was a delight to walk along the beach and watch these industrious little fellows.  Unconcerned by my nearness, they vigorously pursued their hunt for mole crabs, tiny crustaceans that live deep in the sand at the water’s edge.  These shorebirds would scurry along the wet sand, moving so rapidly that their legs were a blur, and then stop to peck once or twice at the sand.  Then a few more hurried steps, another peck or two, and on and on.

     These little birds specialize in staying just beyond the lapping edge of the sea.  When the water’s rythmic ebb and flow brought the foamy edge farther up onto the sand, the little fellows adjusted, moving their hunt inland just enough to avoid a drenching.  Then the moment the ocean began to withdraw, the little sandpipers would quickly turn and scamper down the soaking sand,  careful to stay just a step or two behind the receding water.  And every few steps, the little seabirds would stop to peck at the sand.

     I was impressed by the birds’ skill at staying ahead of the water, since they were almost always right at the edge of the constantly shifting border between sea and sand.  But occasionally there would be a miscalculation, and a sandpiper would get splashed.  Those were among the few times when I saw these birds use their wings.  When hit by the water, a sandpiper would flutter its wings, fly a few feet inland, and position itself on the sand again, just out of the water’s reach. 

     Mostly, the birds seemed to peck randomly, now here, now there.  Occasionally, however, one of the little fellows would peck repeatedly in the same spot.  I assumed that such a sustained interest meant the bird had found a mole crab.  For all the sandpipers’ unrelenting efforts, it remained unclear to me just how successful they were in actually finding and eating the mole crabs they were seeking.  

     The sandpipers struck me as hard workers.  I never saw a single one take a break from the hunt.  Unlike the seagulls, who often stood still on the sand for minutes at a time, their small neighbors the sandpipers were constantly on the move.   

     And sandpipers appear to be solitary birds.  Not like the pelicans, who glided along just above the water, in groups of four or five, the sandpipers were strictly independent operators.  Each kept a good distance from the others.  The few times when I did see two of them in close proximity, the hostility of each was clear.  The two birds would stand facing each other, six or seven inches apart, and flap their wings, sometimes rising up a few inches off the sand.  One little bird, glaring at its competitor, waddled backward, and then ‘sat’ down on the sand.  The bird looked dug in, as if to say, “This is my territory!  Don’t come one step closer!”–April Moore



a sandpiper at the water's edge

a sandpiper at the water's edge





a sandpiper standoff

a sandpiper standoff






keeping one step ahead of the tide

keeping one step ahead of the tide




5 Responses to “Sandpipers”

  1. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a sublime destination. My daughter and I also visited there this summer and I had a wonderful time photographing the seacoast and the dunes. How delightful to be able to spend time there observing the shore birds like the sandpipers, and the pelicans and dolphins. I turned my observations into a series of pastel paintings called Outer Banks Memories. I hope to return there often.

  2. Kia Says:

    Love it! Brings back wonderful memories of another great DW!

  3. Tanya Says:

    I loved reading about those delightful creatures and as Kia says, it brings back wonderful memories of our time together!

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    How wonderful to be reminded of these birds and the pleasure I always got from watching them at the beach!

  5. Joan Brundage Says:

    I’d love to see Diane Furlong’s pastel paintings as I’m also a pastel artist. Thanks for the apt descriptions of the Sand Pipers. I have many happy memories of watching them on the beach along the east coast.

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