The Sandpiper is a characteristic bird of Afrotropical beaches, from Liberia in western Africa to Somalia in eastern Africa, with a small isolated population in Senegal. It also inhabits tropical rivers and lakes with sandy shorelines. The coastal populations appear to be sedentary with local movements into estuaries during winter storms. Birds of the inland sand rivers move to adjacent coastlines, mainly towards the east, when the rivers are in flood. These birds tend to disperse from their natal areas over unsuitable habitat; they are then recorded as unusual visitors at wetlands between these rivers and the coastline.

The total population along the Namibian and South African coastline is probably in excess of 18 000 birds and there are c. 2000 in southern Mozambique. The highest densities occur on the western and southern coasts, as far east as Algoa Bay. No estimate of population size is available for the inland race mechowi but it is likely to be small.

Although Sandpipers nests have been found all year round, their peak breeding season is over the Christmas holiday season, November to March. They lay two or three eggs in a small scrape in the sand or pebbles. The eggs take about a month to hatch and the chicks between four and five weeks to fledge.