Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

Although its name is similar in both English and French, the purple sandpiper is not purple, but a mottled grey-brown colour. Its voice is a low, ‘twit!’ or ‘wee-twit!’

Description

These sandpipers are dark and dumpy, measuring 20-23 cm in length, or about the size of a cardinal. In the breeding season, their upper parts and head are dark brown, with light outlines to their feathers giving them a scaly appearance. Their underparts are white, but thickly mottled with blackish brown, particularly on the breast and flanks. The sturdy bill is yellow at the base and black towards the tip, the legs are yellow and the bird has a white eye-ring. In winter, the purple sandpiper is a dull slate-grey, with a few, blurred lighter markings on its back. The sexes of this species have identical plumage, although females are slightly larger. In flight they show a white wing-stripe and a dark rump.

Distribution

The purple sandpiper is a small, resilient Arctic shorebird that nests along the coasts of many of the Arctic islands and Greenland. In the fall, it migrates to the Atlantic coast, where it is found on rocky coastlines from Newfoundland south as far as Maryland, as well as on the shores of Greenland.

Ecology

Purple sandpipers prefer barren, rocky areas, particularly along coastlines. They spend most of their lives near marine coasts, but some breed farther inland on tundra or high on mountains, along stony, gravel margins of lakes or rivers. The purple sandpiper’s nest is a slight depression in the ground, thinly lined with dry grass, moss, or lichens. Although the breeding habits of this bird are not well known, it is thought that the female usually lays 4 eggs which are incubated, perhaps by the male, for approximately three weeks.

The purple sandpiper feeds mainly on aquatic invertebrates, which it picks from among the rocks using its sturdy bill, but it also sometimes eats insects, algae and plant matter.