The smallest of the sandpipers, or "peeps", the least sandpiper is 6 inches from beak to tail tip. This little guy is similar to several other sandpipers and stints, however its short, slightly curved bill and light-colored legs set it apart. It can be seen during migration in spring and late summer singly or in small groups hunting for worms, snails and crustaceans above the water's edge. They pick up prey from the surface as well as probe just under the surface of sand.
The least sandpiper breeds on the marshes and bogs of the arctic tundra. The male's mating song is highlighted by an aerial display. The plumage of male and female peeps are similar and cryptically colored. The least sandpiper male will take over brooding duties late in the 19- to 23-day incubation period. After hatching, the young leave the nest with the male and begin feeding on their own. They have been recorded to live up to 16 years in the wild.
They winter from Puget Sound south along the West Coast into South America. They also occur on the East Coast, wintering along the marine shores of the southern United States.
David W. Jamison is a marine biologist and Boston Harbor resident.