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Upland Sandpiper Life History



Upland Sandpipers nest in grasslands and are most numerous in native prairies in the Great Plains. They also nest in pastures, both grazed and ungrazed, and in agricultural fields, especially fallow fields, but sometimes hay or other crop fields. Some even nest in road edges. Minimal woody vegetation and minimal bare ground are prominent features of these grassland habitats. In Alaska and northwestern Canada Upland Sandpipers are scarce, nesting in upland tundra, mountain meadows, and elevated ridges in wetlands and floodplains. In eastern North America, where the species is declining, blueberry barrens, peatlands, and airports have small populations. During migration, this species frequents airfields, agricultural fields, and pastures, but migrants can also turn up in unusual places such as on beaches or ballfields, especially when grounded by foul weather. In South America, the species spends the winter in grasslands called pampas or llanos, or in pastures or croplands, especially alfalfa and other feeds. As deforestation has progressed, Upland Sandpipers now frequent grasslands in Andean regions of Colombia and Ecuador as well. During migration and on wintering grounds, they use habitats with shorter vegetation than those used for nesting.

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Upland Sandpipers eat mostly insects, which they pick from the ground or low vegetation as they walk. Among their known prey are grasshoppers, crickets, weevils, billbugs, cutworms, leaf beetles, click beetles, May beetles, larvae of many sorts of flies (horsefly, cranefly, sawfly), moths, ants, and bugs. In addition to insects, they eat centipedes, millipedes, snails, spiders, ticks, and earthworms. Upland Sandpipers also consume seeds of grasses, weeds, and forbs, as well as wheat, rye, and berries. Upland Sandpipers sometimes congregate in recently burned fields that have an abundance of grasshoppers. Migrants in the East sometimes appear in recently plowed potato fields to eat grubs, and these fields may also attract plovers and sandpipers of many species.

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Nest Placement


Nests are set on the ground in dense vegetation, in native prairie, upland tundra flats, mountain meadows, or dry, ungrazed grasslands.

Nest Description

Nests consist of scrapes on the ground that are sometimes lined with grasses, leaves, and twigs; some nests are concealed by overhanging grasses. Males usually begin the process be using the feet and breast to clear the space, and the female completes the scrape and provides lining, usually during egg-laying. Nests measure about 4.5 inches across and 1.7 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-7 eggs
Egg Description:Buff with dark spotting.
Condition at Hatching:Downy and active, capable of leaving nest and feeding themselves almost immediately after hatching.
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Ground Forager

One of the signature sounds of the American prairie is the flight call of displaying Upland Sandpipers, in which the male rises up on fluttering wings and circles above the territory, giving a sputtering whistled song. On landing, the male raises his wings above his back and calls. Once paired, male and female often display together in the same way, tracing a large circle in the sky before plummeting in unison straight downward, landing together gracefully and suddenly. Males also display to females on the ground, lowering the body, cocking up the long tail, inflating the throat, and producing a staccato rattle as he runs toward the female. Although males do display over a territory, this species is not especially territorial and often tolerates others of its species on the territory while nesting, though some males or pairs do drive away single males. In some areas, nests are so close together that the birds almost appear colonial. After hatching, small flocks begin to form even before young have fully fledged. In many parts of the range, breeding adults forage and rest together in small groups. Both adults incubate the eggs, but chick care is little studied. In most cases, adults remain with the young for about one week, but in some cases, just one parent remains with the young thereafter. Their mating system is unclear: the birds pair up in a monogamous fashion, but studies have found evidence of two females laying eggs in a single nest; as well as evidence of multiple males fathering the eggs in a single brood.

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Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the population of Upland Sandpiper was stable between 1966 and 2015, with a moderate increase in the last decade of that period. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 750,000 and rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating it is a species of low conservation concern. However, population declines in some parts of the United States and Canada have led to Upland Sandpiper being listed as a species of concern in nearly two dozen states and provinces. This species was once so abundant that market hunters of the 1800s shipped them eastward by the thousands, in railroad boxcars. The Migratory Birds Convention Act in Canada in 1917 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States in 1918 slowed but did not stop the hunt, but by World War II, market hunting of the species had ended. Although hunting continues in some migratory corridors and probably on parts of the wintering grounds, a larger problem is the loss of their habitat to agriculture, as well as the shift in agriculture toward practices that employ pesticides and leave less residual crop, both in the Great Plains and in the llanos and pampas of South America.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Houston, C. Stuart, Cameron Jackson and Daniel E. Bowen Jr. (2011). Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A., and A. S. Love (2017). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2017.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

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