By MDC | April 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2023

Got a question for Ask MDC? Send it to or call 573-522-4115, ext. 3848.

Q: We saw a cute little shorebird directly below the Audubon Center at Riverlands. As it walked along the shore, it kept bobbing. Is this a spotted sandpiper?

Yes, this is a spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius). This species has well-defined spots on its breast and brown feathers on its upper body. Although the many sandpiper species can be challenging to differentiate in the field, their walk is a good indicator — they tend to teeter, nod, and bob their tails. Additionally, they utter a weet or peet-weet sound, or a long series of weet notes, if alarmed. They are also the only American sandpiper with a combined eye-ring and superciliary eyeline.

They are common near many types of freshwaters, including rivers and streams, but they also live near seacoasts. They forage for insects, crustaceans, worms, snails, and other small invertebrates, probing mud and sand with their slender beaks. In Missouri, they can be found near stream banks, flooded row-crop fields, and mudflats.

Spotted sandpipers have the largest breeding range of any sandpiper in North America. They arrive in Missouri in April and stay through the end of September. During that time, they build nests within 100 yards of shore, often beneath the shade of a broad-leafed plant. Clutches usually have three to five eggs, which hatch in about 20 days. Interestingly, males and females have reversed sex roles. Females perform courtship displays, defend territories, and can have multiple mates, while males tend the nest and chicks. Their winter range extends from the southern coast of the United States southward through most of South America.

Mudflats along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are good places to search for sandpipers during the breeding season. But they also can be found in many other Missouri wetland areas during migration. For more information, visit

Q: What animal is creating these holes in the yard? They are approximately 1½ inches in diameter?

These holes were likely dug by crayfish. Most stream-dwelling crayfish are tertiary burrowers and reach their greatest abundance in riffles, runs, and the margins of pools where they tunnel in gravel or dig cavities beneath cobble and boulder-sized rocks. Secondary burrowers are crayfish that live in standing water. They use vegetation and woody debris to hide from predators and burrow to seek groundwater when their water body dries up.

Primary burrowers — like this one in your yard — are those that spend their entire life within a burrow that extends down to, and sometimes below, the water table. They use subsurface water for moisture and breathing. An earthen “chimney” is a telltale sign that you have found the opening to a crayfish burrow. Missouri has nine known species of burrowing crayfish. They often excavate and inhabit tunnels near surface water like streams, ponds, marshes, and even human-made ditches.

They often build chimneys of excavated soil near the surface. These chimneys can act as ventilation structures, drawing fresh air down into a burrow system that can be more complex than it appears from the surface.

A vital food source to many animals, crayfish are called “keystone” organisms because their presence greatly benefits the health and stability of the ecosystem they inhabit. More than 210 other species prey upon crayfish. They are also considered “ecosystem engineers” because as they modify their surrounding environment, they often provide habitat for other animals and plants.

Crayfish burrowing in wetland, prairie, farm, and residential soils aerates the soil, mixes essential nutrients, moves water around, and helps maintain healthy plant communities and grasses.


This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler