Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper

Purple sandpiper ©Dawn Monrose

Purple sandpiper

Scientific name: Calidris maritima
This stocky wader is mostly a winter visitor to the UK, where it can be found on rocky, seaweed-covered coasts, often with groups of turnstones.

Species information


Length: 21cm
Wingspan: 44cm
Weight: 65g
Average lifespan: 6 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

January to December (rare over summer)


Purple sandpipers are hardy wading birds that breed on coasts and tundra in the far north. In late summer and autumn, birds from Scandinavia, Svalbard, Greenland and some Arctic islands migrate to the UK for the winter. They can be found on rocky shores, especially around piers, groynes and breakwaters. They often form flocks with turnstones, searching for food amongst the seaweed.

How to identify

The purple sandpiper is slightly larger and stockier than a dunlin, giving it a distinctive "dumpy" shape. In winter they have a brown-grey head and back, with whitish underparts that have dark streaks - giving them a less clean look than the similar dunlin. The short legs are orange-yellow, and the downcurved bill has a yellowish base.


In winter and on passage, purple sandpipers can be found on rocky coasts around the UK, though they're most common in Orkney, Shetland, the east coast of Scotland and northern England, and Devon and Cornwall.

Did you know?

One or two pairs of purple sandpiper nest in Scotland, but their location is kept secret to protect them from disturbance.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland and coastal nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.