A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Spotted Sandpiper is not common in Sonoma County, but it’s widespread and present all year and it’s a confirmed breeder (at Monte Rio and near Sea Ranch, according to the Breeding Bird Atlas). Favors the shores of large streams but may be seen at the edge of any large freshwater body, especially in the winter. Occasionally seen at the seashore as well. I personally have seen this bird in the county only at Spring Lake and Lake Ralphine, both in Santa Rosa. Usually solitary. Constantly bobs its tail. Common names include Teeter and Teeter-tail (Burridge).

In the non-breeding plumage we commonly see, mostly plain brown above, mostly white below. Note the comparatively short neck, short legs, and teetering behavior (constantly bobbing its tail), and very stiff, bow-winged look in flight. Flies with shallow wingbeats on very stiff-looking wings, showing a slight white wing stripe in flight, but generally dark above. Underwing striped lengthwise. Non-breeding birds may retain a few spots, as in the bird pictured above. Bill color variable but usually dull yellowish with a darker tip. Broken white eyering. Dark eyeline and white supercilium, or "eyebrow". Legs dull yellow, but leg color variable. Note the shape of the line separating the light and dark areas at the upper breast--the wedge of white here and the diffuse brown projection above it are a good indicator of this bird in this plumage (clearly visible in both photos here). Very tips of tail feathers white. Juvenile birds look similar to non-breeding adults but have more patterning on the back. 

In breeding plumage, belly, breast, and throat covered with large dark brown to black spots, hence the common name. Leg color brightens. Bill becomes bright orange, but retains dark tip (although bill color is variable; may be more yellowish or pinkish). Facial pattern becomes more distinct, and variable dark barring appears on the back.

Trivia: Note that some sources give the Latin species name as macularius, others as macularia. Closely related to the Old World Common Sandpiper (Actitus hypoleucos), the only other member of the genus Actitus. Noted for practicing polyandry.


Selected county sightings: Lake Ralphine (April 8, 2010); Spring Lake (March, 13, 2010); Lake Ralphine (January 6, 2010); Lake Ralphine (December 16, 2009)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 52

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

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 70

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 168

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 180

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 130, pp. 131-133

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 212-213

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 145, 148

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 156

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 182

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), pp. 100, 219

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 100-101

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, p. 101-103, 370-371

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 28

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 143-145

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 152, 162

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 140

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 148, 160

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 154

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 229

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 147

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



© 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.


Spotted Sandpiper, non-breeding plumage, Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa, January 6, 2010

Spotted Sandpiper, non-breeding plumage (note absence of spots) Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, March 13, 2010

Spotted Sandpiper

Actitus macularius

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated August 26, 2013

EBird-reported occurrence in Sonoma County