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Spotted Sandpiper
Actitis macularius
– Family
Authors: Oring, Lewis W., Elizabeth M. Gray, and J. Michael Reed
Revisors: Reed, J. Michael

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Figure 3. Spotted Sandpiper songs and calls.



In need of study.

Vocal Array

Most calls are variations of simple weet notes, which are repeated at differing pitch, intensity, and rate according to context. In aggressive contexts, calls generally louder and slightly higher-pitched, with shorter internote intervals than in sexual contexts (Heidemann and Oring 1976). Males and females have same vocal repertoire, but female vocalizations appear slightly lower in frequency.

Alarm Calls. Consist of weet weet and peet peet peet and are given on the ground or in flight. When flushed, typical call is an extended series of the same notes: tweet-weet-tweet-weet-weettweet-weet-weet-weet-weet (Smith 1914, Stone 1937, Knowles 1942). When alarmed by an intruder, call changes to metallic spink spink if chicks present (Stone 1937), a louder version of Pink Call (see below).

Contact Calls. Contact Calls from parents to chicks described as soft wheet (Knowles 1942), peet peet (Miller and Miller 1948), repeated kerrwee, kurrrweeee, or tootawee notes (Nichols 1920, Saunders 1926, Nelson 1930). Young respond to parental contact calls with pip wip, peeps peeps, or peet peet (Cramp and Simmons 1983). If extremely alarmed or distressed, chick vocalization changes to seep (Nichols 1920, Saunders 1926, Miller and Miller 1948).

Song. Song consists of long string of weet notes (Fig. 3A); given by both sexes in flight, often when landing (Nichols 1920, Saunders 1926, Oring and Knudson 1972, Heidemann and Oring 1976) or from the ground. Song of distant birds sometimes triggers quiet singing from nest (Miller and Miller 1948). In some courtship situations, a slow song (Fig. 3B), intermediate between the normal or advertising song and the Epigamic Call, is uttered.

Epigamic Calls. Epigamic Calls (defined as calls used in reproductive contexts that are structurally more complex than Song; see discussion of social context, below) typically have 2–4 preliminary notes in front of the song’s typical weet notes (Fig. 3C). Soft pip pip pip notes are uttered between breeding individuals in absence of alarm (Nichols 1920, Mousley 1937).

Rodent Squeal. When an incubating adult is surprised at very close range, it gives a loud Rodent Squeal call, which sounds similar to a mammal in pain (LWO). This squeal consists of repeated grating calls composed of wide-frequency noise. Given together with Broken-Wing Display (see Behavior: predation, below).

Call. Breeding birds walking to their nest usually utter distinctive pink, often given in threes (LWO). This call is similar to the spink spink alarm given in the presence of chicks (see above). Soft version of same call is sometimes interspersed with Song uttered by birds at close range in courtship situations.


Generally sings only on breeding grounds, although individuals have been heard singing at stopover sites during migration (C. Elphick pers. comm.). Response by breeders to taped playback wanes as breeding season progresses (Heidemann and Oring 1976).

Daily Pattern Of Vocalizing

Gives Epigamic Calls and Contact Calls day and night. Gives Pink Calls normally only during day. Sings primarily at dawn and occasionally throughout day. Frequency of Song and Epigamic Calls varies throughout breeding season. At Lake Itasca, MN, vocalization rates for females that were socially paired were recorded as 15 Songs/h and 11 Epigamic Calls/h (n = 8; Oring and Knudson 1972). When a new male intruded onto an established pair’s territory, song rates increased to 22–33/h and epigamic calls decreased to 3–9/h (n = 8 females, 9 males); in this case, vocalizations were given primarily by the resident male. Song and epigamic calls decreased dramatically after egg-laying began (2 songs/h; 0 epigamic calls/h, n = 8 females, 9 males). After laying penultimate egg, females began singing extensively again, often throughout day, and performed aerial advertisements and sexual displays (see Behavior: sexual behavior, below) to attract additional mates (Oring and Knudson 1972).

Places Of Vocalizing

Weet-weet-weet song given on ground or in air. During courtship and mate acquisition, often given in air as part of an upward arching display flight that culminates in a position where wings are motionless and chest is held out (see Behavior: sexual behavior, below). Gives Epigamic Call and Rodent Squeal only on ground (LWO and JMR). Although generally only females sing in flight, males also sing in air, especially when competing for mates. Song while on the ground given on territory or when a male is courting a female, including at the nest.

Repertoire And Delivery Of Songs

No geographic information available on variation in Song types. Same basic Song type probably occurs throughout range (LWO). Individuals vary Song, adding notes, especially during courtship.

Social Context And Presumed Functions Of Vocalizations

See discussion of vocal array, above. Threat is expressed as gradation of intensity and internote interval (Knudson 1972, Heidemann and Oring 1976). In playback experiments, decreasing the rate (by increasing the internote intervals) only slightly decreased the visible aggressive response. In reproductive contexts, the weet series is often preceded by 2–4 preliminary notes (e.g., tr-tr-tr weet is an Epigamic Call; Heidemann and Oring 1976). Spink spink Alarm Call induces crouching in chicks (LWO).

Nonvocal Sounds

None known.