Scolopacidae – Woodcock, Snipe, Sandpipers & Allies

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea ©Craig Brelsford Website

The Scolopacidae are a family of waders that includes sandpipers, snipe, woodcock, curlews, stints, godwits, dowitchers, turnstones, phalaropes and shanks.

Don Taylor & Stephen Message are, respectively, the author and illustrator of: Waders of Europe, Asia & North America – Don Taylor writes:

Wader identification has fascinated me right from my early birding years back in the 1950s, when I was fortunate enough to find the attractive and elusive little Jack Snipe wintering on both my local patches – Hampstead Heath and Brent Reservoir. The latter soon provided other identification challenges with sightings of Wood Sandpiper and Ruff. I remember in May 1959 hitchhiking from Hampstead Garden Suburb to that Mecca of sites, Wisbech sewage-farm, to see my first Temminck’s Stint.

My interest was strengthened later that same year, when I observed the delightful Red-necked Phalaropes on their breeding grounds in the Outer Hebrides and the confiding Dotterel on the Cairngorms. However, it was probably the two years I spent living beside Lake Ontario, from August 1962 to July 1964, when I had the challenge of identifying the various ‘peeps’ in their autumn plumages that hooked me completely. Since settling in Kent late in 1964, there have been numbers of opportunities to add further species to my ever expanding list, including such rarities as Sociable Plover in 1968, Buff-breasted Sandpiper in 1977, Terek Sandpiper in 1982, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in 1987 and Oriental Pratincole in 1988.

Leading tours in Europe and farther afield created greater opportunities and I found one of my favourite waders, a Cream-coloured Courser, in Southern Spain in 1979. However, it was on trips specifically planned to add new wader species, with Tony Prater and David Rosair, which really helped us expand our individual wader lists. Three weeks in Argentina and Chile in November 1979 produced another 17 species for me, including my favourite, the Diademed Plover.

I spent a month in Australia and New Zealand in January 2007, when I was able to add another 22 species, including the New Zealand Snipe on Enderby Island, during a Sub-Antarctic cruise. In May 2006 I visited Estonia to see the last of the European waders that had, until then, eluded me – Great Snipe. This was followed by two single species quests in 2008; Japan in March for Amami Woodcock and Thailand in November for the recently re-discovered White-faced Plover. To bring the story right up to date I enjoyed a week with Wirebirds (St Helena Plover) on St Helena in July/August 2009 and am now left with just a dozen more to see around the world, however these may take some time as they include such isolated locations as the Tuamotu and Chatham Islands, as well as four different South American countries for four snipe species.

Mentioning long periods of time, Stephen has had to wait far too long to see this book published, after a lengthy six-year gestation period. It was David Rosair who came up with the idea of illustrating confusing species together and I recommended that he ask Stephen to produce the plates. Sadly, or fortunately from my point of view, when David was unable to continue with the writing, Stephen suggested that I should be asked.

It has been a great pleasure working with him and, after about two years of writing and further painting, we are naturally delighted to see the book finally published and we are pleased with the design work, particularly of the American version.

Stephen remembers, as a 12 year-old living in his home village of Benenden, repeatedly flushing a small dark bird from the village pond.

I noted that it had a white rump, gave a distinctive call and I eventually realised, of course, that it was a Green Sandpiper. Apart from having seen Snipe and Lapwing locally, this wader was effectively my introduction to this fascinating and in many instances highly migratory family. I realised that this meant virtually anything could turn up anywhere creating exciting opportunities. My first ever watercolour of a bird, painted at the age of 10, was indeed a Northern Lapwing, which I presented to my Grandparents. The Lapwing is still one of my top subjects and my favourite wader species.

We hope that many will enjoy the continuing challenge of wader identification; for which I would like to recommend an excellent very recently published tome Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere by Richard Chandler, a renowned wader photographer. It is filled with probably half-a-lifetime of his superb photographs to illustrate a detailed text.

Species List

There are 91 species of snipe, sandpipers etc. in the family Scolopacidae, according to the IOC; they are:

Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Amami Woodcock Scolopax mira
Javan Woodcock Scolopax saturata
New Guinea Woodcock Scolopax rosenbergii
Bukidnon Woodcock Scolopax bukidnonensis
Sulawesi Woodcock Scolopax celebensis
Moluccan Woodcock Scolopax rochussenii
American Woodcock Scolopax minor

Chatham Snipe Coenocorypha pusilla
Snares Snipe Coenocorypha huegeli
Subantarctic Snipe Coenocorypha aucklandica

Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus

Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria
Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii
Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola
Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura
Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago megala
African Snipe Gallinago nigripennis
Madagascan Snipe Gallinago macrodactyla
Great Snipe Gallinago media
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Wilson’s Snipe Gallinago delicata
South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae
Puna Snipe Gallinago andina
Noble Snipe Gallinago nobilis
Giant Snipe Gallinago undulata
Fuegian Snipe Gallinago stricklandii
Jameson’s Snipe Gallinago jamesoni
Imperial Snipe Gallinago imperialis

Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa

Little Curlew Numenius minutus
Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis
Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes
Wandering Tattler Tringa incana
Willet Tringa semipalmata

Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius

Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala

Surfbird Aphriza virgata

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis
Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima
Rock Sandpiper Calidris ptilocnemis
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus

Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis

Ruff Philomachus pugnax

Wilson’s Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius

Species Links
  • Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis

    Species Account
    The bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) is a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in Alaska and winters on tropical Pacific islands.
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina

    IUCN Species Status
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina

    Species Account
    The dunlin (Calidris alpina) is a small wader, sometimes separated with the other "stints" in Erolia.
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina

    Cornell Species Account
    The Dunlin is a familiar shorebird around the world, where its bright reddish back and black belly, and long, drooping bill distinguish it from nearly all other shorebirds.
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina

    RSPB Species Account
    The commonest small wader found along the coast. It has a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. It feeds in flocks in winter, sometimes numbering thousands, roosting on nearby fields, saltmarshes and shore when the tide is high.
  • Nordmann's Greenshank Tringa guttifer

    ID tips for the endangered species, good photos
  • Ruff Philomachus pugnax

    IUCN Species Status
  • Ruff Philomachus pugnax

    Species Account
    The ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a medium-sized wading bird that breeds in marshes and wet meadows across northern Eurasia. This highly gregarious sandpiper is migratory and sometimes forms huge flocks in its winter grounds, which include southern and western Europe, Africa, southern Asia and Australia. It is usually considered to be the only member of its genus, and the broad-billed and sharp-tailed sandpipers are its closest relatives.
  • Ruff Philomachus pugnax

    RSPB Species Account
    Conservation status: Red The ruff is a medium-sized wading bird. It has a long neck, a small head, a rather short slightly droopy bill and medium-long orange or reddish leg.
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea

    Stunning photos of migrating SBS, plus discussion of species
  • Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

    Species Account
    The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Europe and Asia as far south as Scotland.
  • Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

    Cornell Species Account
    One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the Whimbrel breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia
  • Don Taylor & Stephen Message

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 91

Useful Reading
  • Geographical Variation in Waders

    | By Meinte Engelmoer & Cees S Roselaar | Kluwer Academic Publishers | 1998 | Hardback | 331 pages, figures, tabs, maps | ISBN: 9780792350200 Buy this book from
  • Shorebirds

    | (An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World) | by Peter Hayman, John Marchant & Tony Prater | Christopher Helm | 1991 | Hardback | 416 pages, 88 colour photos, 214 maps, line drawings | ISBN: 9780713635096 Buy this book from
  • Shorebirds

    | By Des Thimpson & Ingvar Byrkjedal | Colin Baxter Photography |2001 | paperback | 72 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9781841070759 Buy this book from
  • Shorebirds of North America

    | (The photographic Guide | by Dennis Paulson | Christopher Helm | 2005 | Paperback | 361 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9780713673777 Buy this book from
  • Snipes

    | By Edited by R Rouxel | Eveil Nature | 2000 | Hardback | 304 pages, 60 colour plates | ISBN: 9782840000273 Buy this book from
  • The Curlew

    | By Gerry Cotter | Shire Publications | 1990 | Paperback | 24 pages, Colour photos, b/w photos, maps | ISBN: 9780747800903 Buy this book from
  • The Woodcock

    | (Artists' Impressions) | by S Gudgeon, K Sykes and B Hoskyns | Quiller Publishing | 2006 | Hardback | 147 pages, illustrations | ISBN: 9781904057833 Buy this book from
  • Waders of Europe, Asia & North America

    | By Stephen Message & Don Taylor | Christopher Helm 2005 | Paperback | 224 pages, 80 plates with colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780713652901 Buy this book from
  • Australasian Wader Studies Group

    The Australasian Wader Studies Group was formed in 1981 as a special interest group of Birds Australia. The group is an non-government organisation dedicated to studying waders (otherwise known as shorebirds) throughout the East-Asian Australasian Flyway. There are about 330 members, of which 90 are from Asia
  • International Wader Study Group

    The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is an association of amateurs and professionals from all parts of the world interested in Charadrii (waders or shorebirds). Membership of the WSG is currently over 650 worldwide. Members can be found in over 50 countries around the world, including all European countries and the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia. The interests of the group have diversified from its original focus from ringing and migration-related studies to embrace all aspects of wader biology.
  • Western Atlantic Shorebird Association

    The first research project to be part of WASA is the International Banding Project which is being led by Professor Allan Baker, Canada and Patricia M. Gonz
  • Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

    Conserving shorebirds and their habitat through a network of key sites across the Americas.
Forums & Mailing Lists
Other Links
  • International Wader Study Group

    The 213 species worldwide have found niches almost everywhere. From the plateaus of the Andes and the Rift Valley lakes to the estuaries and the tundra of the north, waders can be found on all but one of the Earth’s continents. Spend long enough on any coastline and you will eventually find shorebird, and if you are in the right place at the right time, perhaps witness the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of waders flying as one in a swirling cloud of wings. The Banc D’Arguin in Mauritania is such a place. Every winter, up to 2 milion waders call home to this magical wetland, bordered by the mighty Sahara desert. Such places are of incredible importance for these global travellers.
  • The New Shorebirds Handbook Project

    This is a blog of The New Shorebirds Handbook Project which aims to bring together the current knowledge on shorebird science, conservation and a little bit more. By following the blog, readers could insight into the progress and important milestones of the project and the recent news on the world of waders and a bit more of us, the authors….
  • Wader Quest

    It is vital to to take action to prevent the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from becoming extinct. Wader Quest is an attempt to raise money and awareness to the plight of, not just these tiny wanderers but of wader species worldwide…

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