Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Stilt Sandpiper - Calidris himantopus
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General Comments Though the Stilt Sandpiper is a species in the genus Calidris, it looks hardly anything like others in the genus, but instead can be easily overlooked or confused with yellowlegs (genus Tringa) or dowitchers (Limnodromus). As with most shorebird species, Stilt Sandpipers are seen mainly along the coast in migration, though careful and serious birders can find them inland if mudflats are present on the larger reservoirs. The species usually feeds in mixed flocks with other similar-sized birds, especially Lesser Yellowlegs, both species of dowitchers, and Dunlins; favored habitats are shallow, still fresh or brackish water of impoundments and pools, where they are typically seen wading in water covering parts of their legs. It tends to shun salt water and associated mudflats, nor does it care for moving fresh or brackish water.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient, mainly along the coast. Uncommon in spring, and often fairly common to common in fall, at Bodie/Pea Islands; mostly uncommon at best elsewhere along the central coast, and generally rare in spring and rare to uncommon in fall along the southern coast. In the Tidewater zone, rare in spring and locally uncommon in fall, at suitable lakes or impoundments. Farther inland, very rare to rare in spring, and rare to locally uncommon in fall. Mostly late Apr to mid- or late May, and early Jul to mid-Nov, with a peak from early Aug to mid-Sep. Four early winter records -- singles at Goldsboro, 23 Dec 2003; at Lake Mattamuskeet, 29 Dec 1996; at the latter lake, 29 Dec 2009; and two just east of Aurora (Beaufort), 25-30 Dec 2022. One at Eagle Island (Brunswick) on 1 Jan 2022 was apparently a first state record for that month. One reported at Bodie Island on 1 Feb 2009, if correctly identified, was quite remarkable for midwinter. Peak counts: 1,000, Bodie-Pea Islands, 23 Aug 1974; 420, Lake Mattamuskeet, 8 Aug 2009; 224, Eagle Island near Wilmington, during Aug 1991.
Piedmont Transient. Casual spring migrant, and rare to locally uncommon fall migrant (more numerous when extensive mudflats are showing at large reservoirs). Only six published spring records, mainly early and mid-May, with 1 near Raleigh on 30 Mar 2007 and 5 at Jordan Lake on 3 Apr 1974 [Chat 38:79 link] being exceptional records; mid-Jul to the end of Oct, with a peak from early Aug to mid-Sep. Peak counts: 80, Jordan Lake, 18 Aug 2002; 75, Jordan Lake, 13 Sep 2009; 60, Jordan Lake, 24 Oct 1986 (a rather late date for such a large number).
Mountains Transient. Casual in spring, and very rare in fall, with all but two published records so far from Henderson. Four spring records, all between 2 May and 20 May. Fall records (about 13) between 18 Jul - 26 Sep. Notable was a first for the northern mountains at Price Lake (Watauga) from 26 Aug - 1 Sep 2021. Peak counts: 30, Jeffress Road, 8 Sep 2004; 9, Hooper Lane, 5 Sep 2006; 8, Mills River valley, 18 Jul 2014; 6-8, Hooper Lane, 25-29 Jul 2001. The only record outside that county was of 4 birds just east of Brevard (Transylvania) on 3 Aug 2018.
Finding Tips In Aug or early Sep, one has a good chance to see them at the impoundments at Pea or Bodie islands; Lake Mattamuskeet at that time, if flats are showing, can be good as well. In mid-May, smaller numbers can be seen at Pea and Bodie islands, in full alternate plumage. When inland reservoirs show extensive flats in summer and fall, Stilt Sandpipers can often be found, but usually in numbers less than 10 birds.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-10]
NC Map
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