The Terek Sandpiper, Xenus cinereus, is a small and stout wader with a steep forehead, short orange legs and an unmistakable upturned black bill with an orange base.

A Terek Sandpiperstanding in shallow water.

When in non-breeding plumage, they have a plain grey back and a white belly. Dark streaks appear on their head and neck when they moult into breeding plumage. A dark band of feathers also forms a line down the centre of the top of each wing when the bird is resting. This part of the wing is called the scapular.

A Terek Sandpiper walking in the mud
Non-breeding plumage - October to March
A Terek Sandpiper in breeding plumage standing in shallow water.
Breeding plumage - April to September

Terek Sandpipers aren’t big on sharing their food and usually like to hang out on their own. However, they will sometimes feed in small flocks or on the edge of flocks of other shorebird species.

Terek Sandpipers and Kentish Plovers roosting on a pipeline.
Terek Sandpipers (left) and Kentish Plovers (right) roosting together on a pipeline in Taiwan.

You can find Terek Sandpipers in mangroves, and on sandy and rocky beaches and sheltered mudflats mainly on the north and east coasts of Australia. They eat insects, crustaceans, molluscs, seeds and arachnids.

Don’t be fooled by their podgy stature. Terek Sandpipers are known for moving briskly and swiftly and suddenly changing directions as they chase after small crabs, which are their favourite prey!

Terek Sandpiper eating a crab while standing in shallow water.
A Terek Sandpiper eating a crab.
A Terek Sandpiper eating a polychaete worm.
A Terek Sandpiper eating a polychaete worm.
Cartoon distribution map for the Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpipers breed in Finland, Russia, Siberia and the Arctic tundra from May to August. Male Terek Sandpipers put on alluring air displays and ground performances including singing, wing-fluttering and tail-raising to impress the females.

Once successful, they will build a shallow nest in low vegetation or out in the open and line it with grass. While the female incubates the eggs, the male will defend the nest. Then both parents will tend to the young once they have hatched.

A Terek Sandpiper chick sitting on mossy ground.
A Terek Sandpiper chick camouflaged against the mossy ground.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

Least Concern

Australian EPBC Act


Similar Species

Image credits:
Stephanie Stylli
Stephanie has volunteered as an Ambassador Program Project Officer for Wing Threads through Remember the Wild, Australia’s first nature connection charity, since 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology from The University of Melbourne.
Book cover for A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure

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Join Milly on her microlight and discover how amazing and awesome migratory shorebirds are!

Milly Formby is a zoologist and illustrator of the children’s book A Shorebird Flying Adventure (CSIRO Publishing).  She is currently flying her microlight around Australia for Wing Threads: Flight Around Oz.

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