Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Sanderling - Calidris alba
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General Comments The Sanderling is one of the most familiar shorebirds to birders and the layman alike, as it scampers back and forth with the incoming waves on our beaches. It is also a common bird, seen on essentially every visit to the coast, even in midsummer, when populations are at their lowest. It does occur inland, though almost exclusively in fall at reservoirs with extensive mudflats. Along the coast, where nearly all are seen in the state, it favors ocean beaches, inlets, and sand flats, where its pale body color blends in with the color of dry sand. It may occur around the margins of coastal ponds and impoundments, and it also can be found on jetties and other rocky substrates along the coast; however, it typically avoids tidal mudflats.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident, essentially along the coast. Common to abundant and widespread along the entire coast in migration, and slightly less numerous, though still common, in winter. Uncommon in early summer along the coast. Generally rare in the Tidewater zone in migration, though probably more numerous along shorelines of Pamlico Sound; very rare in winter. Farther inland, casual in spring, and very rare to rare in fall; most records are from Goldsboro. The four spring records, three from Goldsboro, are between 2 May and 27 May; fall records occur from late Jul to late Sep, with a peak in early to mid-Sep. Normal coastal dates are from mid-Jul to early Jun, with flight peaks from late Jul to late Aug, and again in mid-May. Peak counts: 9,882, beach from Salvo to Cape Hatteras, 29 Jul 1993; 3,500, Oregon Inlet, 18 May 1976.
Piedmont Transient. Very rare in spring, and rare to locally uncommon in fall, with many more records in "droughty" summers/falls when there are extensive mudflats at reservoirs. Mainly mid-Apr to late May, and late Jul to early Oct, with a few records to mid-Nov; there are no winter records. Peak counts: 50, Falls Lake, 12 Sep 1993; 50, Jordan Lake, 20 Sep 1983.
Mountains Transient. Casual in spring: one at Hooper Lane (Henderson) on 1 May 1999; one photographed at that site on 19 Apr 2019; and one at that site on 22 May 2020. Very rare to rare in fall in Henderson, and casual to very rare in other mountain counties. An unusual record was one on the lawn at the restaurant at Mount Mitchell SP (Yancey) on 31 Aug 2004 [Chat 69:49)! link] Practically as unusual was an injured bird found at Beech Mountain (Avery) at an elevation about 5,000 feet on 18 Oct 2022. The 11 or so other fall records lie between 22 Jul and 18 Sep. Peak counts: 12, Mills River, 17 Sep 2004; 5, Hooper Lane, 6 Sep 2011.
Finding Tips Easily found on ocean beaches over most of the year.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-18], LeGrand[2023-03-10], LeGrand[2022-02-08]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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