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Baird's Sandpiper Life History



Baird’s Sandpipers nest in dry or slightly moist tundra habitats from northwestern Greenland westward to easternmost Siberia. They avoid wet tundra habitats (used by many shorebirds), preferring dry slopes and barrens with alpine vegetation, often in rocky areas or along exposed ridges. In such environments, plants like arctic poppies, mountain avens, purple saxifrage, arctic white heather, blueberry, arctic willow, arctic bluegrass, and various rushes and grasses predominate, and lichens, mosses, and reindeer moss are abundant. Migrants stop over in a wide variety of habitats, often near freshwater wetlands. These include the edges of lakes and rivers, wet farm fields, pastures, shortgrass prairies, drying lake beds, and rice fields. In tropical areas, migrating Baird’s gravitate toward similar habitats but also sometimes use marshes, lagoons, tidal mudflats, beaches, and estuaries. They forage more on mud than in the water. They also appear at high-elevation lakes and playas from the Rockies through the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. Baird’s Sandpipers winter mostly in South America, from low elevations up to at least 15,000 feet elevation. In the Andes they use bare plains, shortgrass meadows, and grazed lakeshores, often in remote, cold, windy, rather desolate areas.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Baird’s Sandpipers eat mainly crustaceans, insects, and other arthropods. They forage by walking deliberately and searching for prey visually, pecking at the surface to take small invertebrates. In moist sand or mud, they also sometimes probe for food. Because of their strong tendency in both breeding and wintering areas to forage away from water, Baird’s Sandpipers are sometimes nicknamed “grasspipers,” along with Buff-breasted Sandpipers and to a lesser degree Pectoral and Least Sandpipers. Among their known prey items are spiders, the larvae of craneflies, midges, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths, and tiny pond crustaceans.

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Nest Placement


The nest is placed on the ground in dry tundra, sometimes next to a rock or under low vegetation.

Nest Description

Both male and female make a scrape with the feet and breast, then line it with nearby plant matter including birch, willow, and blueberry leaves, lichens, reindeer moss, mountain avens, and arctic white heather. Some nests are unlined. The interior cup of the nest averages about 2.5 inches across and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Egg Description:

Pale gray to brownish tan to reddish to deep olive, with extensive dark blotching.

Condition at Hatching:

Active and covered with down.

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Male Baird’s Sandpipers arrive on breeding grounds when snow still covers much of the high Arctic tundra. They begin to claim territories as snow melts, singing from the ground and performing flight song displays. In some places, many males display very near one another, almost like larger lekking shorebirds (such as the Ruff). As more snow melts, these aggregations disband and males move to areas that will serve as nesting territories. In flight displays, the male flies steeply upward, often well over 100 feet high, and begins singing as he descends, alternating bouts of “butterfly” flight (with exaggeratedly slow wingbeats), hovering on trembling wings, and coasting with wings held up over the back, in a V-shape. The male usually lands in this last, dramatic flight mode, giving doubled twoowee calls. When a female appears, males display on the ground, rushing at the female with bill down, back feathers raised, tail sometimes spread and cocked, giving trilling calls, then standing erect and raising a wing. Males chasing other males away from a nesting territory behave in similar ways, and sometimes courtship and conflict displays are indistinguishable unless followed by copulation. Males display much less once females have laid eggs, which occurs soon after their arrival. Even after females lay eggs, multiple males may display over a territory. Both adults build the nest, incubate the eggs, and tend the young. Females often depart the territory before the young fledge, leaving the male to finish chick-rearing. Baird’s Sandpipers form flocks during migration and on wintering grounds, usually small groups but occasionally more than 100, seldom more.

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Low Concern

Because of the remoteness of its nesting and wintering areas, Baird’s Sandpiper population trends are unknown. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 300,000 birds and rates the species a 12 out of 20 on its Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. As with other shorebirds that nest in the high Arctic, this species is vulnerable to the many negative effects of climate change.

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Moskoff, William and Robert Montgomerie. (2002). Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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