A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Among the smallest of our fairly common shorebirds, Least Sandpiper is usually found on tidal mudflats and along rocky coastal beaches. Probably most easily observed in Sonoma County at Bodega Bay, but its range includes the entire Sonoma coast. Least Sandpiper becomes relatively scarce in the county in early summer. Common in appropriate habitat from around mid-July to mid-May of the following year. Least common from late May into early July. Numbers usually highest in September, during migration, but a common winter resident. Usually in small groups but sometimes seen in flocks. Commonly mixes with other shorebirds.  

Distinguished by its small size, short bill, and greenish yellow legs. The smallest of our small sandpipers. In Sonoma County, most likely to be confused with Western Sandpiper (Calidiris mauri), which is a somewhat larger bird with a slightly longer, heavier bill (although the differences are subtle) and somewhat paler coloration in breeding plumage. Least Sandpiper usually has a browner look than Western Sandpiper. Least Sandpiper is the only small sandpiper we commonly see that has yellow or greenish legs, rather than black legs. Note, however, that leg color can be hard to see in poor light and that mud can make the legs of a Least Sandpiper look darker than they really are. When in mixed flocks, Least Sandpiper should be noticeably smaller than Western Sandpiper. 

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Least Sandpiper

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 55

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 228

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 180

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 192

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 150

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 228-229

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 158

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 171

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 64-67 (general notes on shorebird ID), pp. 66, 67, 82, 83, 84

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 176

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), pp. 214, 215, 220, 223, 224, 226-241, 230, 231, 234

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 113-114

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, p. 156-160

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 31

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 246-250

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, pp. 158, 162

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, pp. 144, 160

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 148

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 167

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 264

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 156



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Least Sandpiper (juvenile), Westside Park mud flats, Bodega Bay, September 7, 2011

Least Sandpiper (foreground), Western Sandpiper (background), Bodega Bay, October 1, 2012

Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 15, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County