Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla
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General Comments The Semipalmated Sandpiper is, at times, the most abundant of the confusing "peep" sandpipers in the state; several thousand can be seen along the coast in spring and fall. Prior to around 1970, it was assumed that small to moderate numbers wintered along the Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts, including the coast of North Carolina. However, review of winter specimens by one to several biologists raised a "red flag" -- essentially all were Western Sandpipers. Semipalmateds winter far to the south of the United States, but millions breed in the Arctic tundra, and thus large numbers pass through the state, though typically just along the coast, with much smaller numbers inland. In North Carolina, "Semis" are common both at tidal flats and in fresh/brackish pools and flats; there is some seasonal difference, as in fall they are more frequent in pools and fresh/brackish waters, perhaps displaced by Western Sandpipers from more tidal flats.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient. Common to abundant along the coast in spring; common to abundant from Cape Hatteras northward in fall, but less numerous (fairly common to common) southward along the coast (as presumably large numbers migrate offshore in the fall). In the Tidewater area, mostly uncommon in migration; farther inland, rare to uncommon and local in spring, and uncommon in fall. Mostly late Apr to early Jun, and mid-Jul to mid-Nov, though the normal departure date is hard to determine. Small numbers occur along the coast all summer. No definitive winter records (specimen or photos needed); last recently reported late date is one at Cape Hatteras point, 2 Dec 1986. Peak count: 17,500, Oregon Inlet, 18 May 1976; peak away from the coast: 133, Lake Mattamuskeet, 30 Aug 1997.
Piedmont Transient. Rare to occasionally uncommon in spring, and uncommon in fall, though occasionally quite numerous when extensive reservoir mudflats are present. Main dates are late Apr to early Jun, and mid-Jul to mid-Sep, sparingly into mid-Oct. Peak counts: 150, Falls Lake, 16 Aug 2007; 150, Jordan Lake, 3 Aug 2002; 135, Jordan Lake, 15 Sep 2007. Peak spring count: 65, Lake Wheeler (Wake), 9 May 2007.
Mountains Transient. Rare in spring and fall (though no published records in fall?), May and late Jul into Oct. Peak counts: 150, at Mills River (Henderson), 28 May 2017; 30, Hooper Lane, 6 May 1999; 12, Pisgah Forest, on the same date as the previous record.
Finding Tips This is one of our most abundant coastal birds in migration, and is easily found.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-10], LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2017-12-07]
NC Map
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