- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant. The Spotted Sandpiper was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Sparsely distributed across northern and central North America, the Spotted Sandpiper is a solitary species. It is rare to sight more than a single bird or, at most, a single family. It is most abundant during the breeding season in the northern Rockies (Figure 1).
Ranked as Least Concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan Partnership and assigned a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight.
Medium- to long-distance migrant that winters in the southern United States, Central America, and South America.
Aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates are the major prey items, secured by probing shallow waters, shorelines, and beaches.
A small scrape lined with dead grasses and usually located within a few hundred meters of water, where herbaceous vegetation can provide some cover.
In Minnesota, Roberts (1932) described the species as a common summer resident throughout the state:
The Spotted Sandpiper, or Teeter Snipe, is by far the most common and generally distributed of the summer-resident members of the Shore Bird group in Minnesota. It is found throughout the state without regard to any special environment. Any variety of shore-line or water-margin, even though it be only that of a stagnant pool in a quarry or brickyard, seems to be acceptable to the plebeian taste of this little Sandpiper.
At the time, nesting records (nests with eggs or downy young) were available from Jackson County in the southwest, Hennepin, Sherburne and Wright Counties in central Minnesota, Itasca and Polk Counties in the northwest, and St. Louis and Cook Counties in the northeast.
Both Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) considered the Spotted Sandpiper a breeding resident throughout the state when they provided updated status accounts decades later. It was most abundant, they noted, along the Mississippi River and in the northern lakes region. Janssen (1987) identified 25 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; all but five were located north of the Minnesota River. A few years later, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added five additional counties to the list, including three south of the Minnesota River.
Field staff with the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) have documented a total of 103 breeding season locations. In contrast to earlier reports that found the species most abundant along the Mississippi River and in northern Minnesota, nearly half of the MBS records were located either along or south of the Minnesota River valley; only 2 records were reported along the Mississippi River valley south of the Twin Cities (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, participants reported a total of 603 Spotted Sandpiper detections in 10.4% (493/4,747) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 11.6% (270/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was documented in 44 (0.9%) of the blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was observed in 80 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and was confirmed breeding in 26 counties. Two blocks straddled 2 counties (Polk/Marshall and Morrison/Cass). Of the confirmed nesting records, 8 were south of the Minnesota River and 3 were in counties along the Iowa border where earlier accounts had not previously documented nesting. Thirteen of the counties where nesting was confirmed were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998): Carlton, Faribault, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Itasca, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pennington, Pipestone, Polk, Ramsey, and Wright.
Although the species is widely dispersed across the state, an unusually high number of MNBBA reports were gathered from several western counties, including Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Swift, and Yellow Medicine, due largely to intensive survey efforts by one individual. Even when this local sampling bias is accounted for by examining data only in the priority blocks, the Spotted Sandpiper was still most abundant in the Prairie Parkland and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces and least abundant in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.
Despite earlier reports that the species was most abundant along the Mississippi River, only a handful of records were found in the Mississippi River valley from the Twin Cities south to the Iowa border. It appears that the species’ abundance in the northern lakes region may have declined as well. Intense development and recreational pressure along lake shorelines grew throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Itasca County alone, in the heart of Minnesota’s northern recreational region, witnessed a 31% increase in lakeshore development in just a six-year period from 1992 through 1998 (Dempsey 2006). An increase in buildings, docks, and boats often leaves little room for shoreline inhabitants like the Spotted Sandpiper. High water levels in some regions of the state may also be contributing to declining numbers. Shorelines now inundated by water no longer provide that narrow band of shoreline habitat that is critical for the Spotted Sandpiper (Robert Russell, pers. comm.). Although one may presume that the “teeter bird” was a common species in Roberts’s time, during the MNBBA it was classified as an uncommon species.
Across North America, the Spotted Sandpiper has not experienced any large-scale changes to its distribution in the past one hundred years (Reed et al. 2013). Neighboring states and provinces that have conducted atlases, including Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota, have all reported that the species remains as widely dispersed today as it did decades ago (Cutright et al. 2006; Iowa Ornithologists’ Union 2017; Drilling et al. 2016). Although the species’ distribution remains unchanged, many states and provinces that have conducted two atlases report a decline in abundance.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.