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Identifying Wandering Tattler and Spotted Sandpiper

Wandering Tattler
Wandering tattler, non-breeding adult. August in Ventura County, California. Photo by Brian E. Small

The name of the Wandering Tattler sounds fanciful and fictional, but it’s actually a fitting title. “Wandering” is no exaggeration. The coastal wintering range of this sandpiper spans the Pacific, from California and Ecuador west to Australia, and just about every archipelago and island in between: Hawaii, Galapagos, Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji, and more. “Tattler” is appropriate, too: When this modest-looking bird takes flight from a wave-washed rock, its loud, ringing trill ensures that everyone will know about it.

In terms of habitat and surroundings, the Wandering Tattler leads a double life. Most birders see it in the non-breeding season, along the coast on rocky shorelines. For breeding, however, it goes to the interior of Alaska and parts of northwestern Canada and extreme eastern Siberia, nesting near streams in the mountains. The first nest was not discovered until 1923, in the area that’s now Denali National Park in central Alaska, and its breeding behavior still has not been studied thoroughly.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media