The Wood Sandpiper is wary and nervous and will burst into flight if disturbed, zig-zagging off and calling loudly, then generall glide gracefully to ground again.
The Wood Sandpiper is a small slim wader, dark grey-brown above, with light flecks or spots, and a white underbody. The light breast is mottled as well. The legs are yellow-green. There is a distinct white brow line. The flight is strong, with distinctive clipped wing beats. In flight, a square white rump is revealed and there are no wing bars.
Wood Sandpipers are seen in small flocks or singly on inland shallow freshwater wetlands, often with other waders. They prefer ponds and pools with emergent reeds and grass, surrounded by tall plants or dead trees and fallen timber.
Wood Sandpipers are more numerous in the north than the south of Australia and are also found in New Guinea, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South-east Asia. They breed widely across the north of Europe and Asia, mostly in Scandinavia, Baltic countries and Russia. They are the most abundant migratory wader in non-coastal areas of Asia.
This is a migratory species, moving south after breeding to Africa and South Asia. The Australian population probably breeds in east Siberia. There is some movement in Australia. They leave the breeding areas by early September and are mostly seen in Australia between August and April. Small numbers of birds remain in Australia over winter.
Feeding and diet
Wood Sandpipers feed mainly on aquatic insects and their larvae and molluscs in moist or dry mud. They high-step daintily through shallow water, probing in mud or picking at the surface. They also swim well and may feed by sweeping their bill from side to side under water.
The call is a shrill, whistled 'chiff-iff-iff' and the alarm call is a sharper 'chip' repeated rapidly.
Wood Sandpipers nest in a variety of habitats in their northern breeding grounds, including pine forests, open tundra, marshes or bogs. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grass and leaves, sometimes even in the old nest of a songbird. The display during breeding is a switchback flight in the air, then a glide back to ground with short trilling calls.
- Breeding season: May to August
- Clutch size: Four.
- Incubation: 23 days
Wood Sandpipers have benefited from irrigation schemes and open sewage ponds and other artificial wetlands. Threats on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the migration route to Australia) include economic and social pressures such as wetland destruction and change, pollution and hunting.
- Pringle, J.D. 1987. The Shorebirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
- Morcombe, M. 2000. Field guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.
- Higgins, P.J. and S.J.J.F. Davies (eds) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 3 (Snipe to Pigeons). Oxford University Press, Victoria.