Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Tryngites subruficollis

(c) Ron Wolf
  • SCOLOPACIDAE
  • Snipe, Sandpipers, Phalaropes, and allies
  • Charadriiformes
  • Correlimos canelo, Chorlito canela, Praderito pechianteado, Praderito canelo
  • Bécasseau roussâtre
Introduction
Delicate features and warm tan colors make the Buff-breasted Sandpiper an attractive shorebird. Market hunting and habitat destruction have made it rare. At the end of the 1800's, this sandpiper's populations were estimated between the hundreds of thousands to over a million. Only 15,000 Buff-breasted Sandpipers now migrate from the pampas of southern South America to the wet tundra of the high Arctic.
(c) Ron Wolf
Appearance Description

A small shorebird, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper has delicate features, long legs, and relatively long wings. The bird's black bill and dark eyes contrast with the buff face. Its slender neck, rounded head, and coloration make it look like a plover, or a small dove. The head, neck, and belly are a soft, warm tan color, fading to white toward the under-tail. Brown spots and streaks mark the crown. The feathers of the upper-parts have dark centers and buff edges, to create a complex and regular pattern. The under-wings are silvery white. The sexes are essentially alike. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper weighs about 2.2 ounces, and grows to 8.25 inches, with a wingspan of 18 inches.

Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
The Buff-breasted Sandpiper breeds in the high Arctic of Canada and Alaska, including some crucial areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. During migration, this sandpiper stops for food and rest in North and South America. The short grasslands of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay provide wintering grounds. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is no longer observed in large numbers, except in a few staging areas.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
During migration, Buff-breasted Sandpipers use the edges of ponds or lakes, along with a variety of short grass habitats such as mowed fields, golf courses, and airports. Breeding takes place on the Arctic tundra close to water. Buff-breasted Sandpipers winter on the South American pampas, or prairies, where livestock have grazed heavily, and where seasonal flooding keeps the ground moist.
Feeding
The Buff-breasted Sandpiper feeds mostly on insects by standing motionless as it scans the ground and then dashing after prey to pick it from the surface. The bird's food habits have been poorly studied, but they are known to eat flies, midges, crane flies, and beetles, as well as spiders and seeds from water plants.
Reproduction
Unlike any other shorebird in the Western Hemisphere, Buff-breasted Sandpiper males gather in loose groups called leks, where they perform breeding displays. Males vigorously and sometimes violently defend breeding territories.
 
Buff-breasted Sandpipers do not form pairs. After mating, the female makes a depression in thick moss and lines it with lichens, leaves, and grasses. Females almost always lay four eggs, with dense markings over a light background; they incubate the eggs for about 24 days. Hatchlings are "precocial," or well developed;  they can run, feed themselves, and hide from predators.
Migration
A long distant migrant, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper requires migratory stopover sites for rest and refueling. Routes change with the availability of food and appropriate staging areas. Significant numbers of birds may not reach the breeding grounds. Male Buff-breasted Sandpipers start to leave the seasonally flooded prairies of southern South America in February and begin the return flight as early as mid-June. Females depart both grounds later than males. All Buff-breasted Sandpipers appear to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpipers depart the breeding grounds much later than adults and tend to migrate farther east, along the Atlantic Coast.
  • 15,000
  • 15,000
  • moderate population declines and very small population size
Population Status Trends
Some researchers have observed fewer Buff-breasted Sandpipers on their wintering grounds from 1973 to 1990, despite a relative abundance of apparently suitable habitat. Anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer of these shorebirds have recently been migrating through the United States.
 
Conservation Issues
Buff-breasted Sandpipers appear to be undergoing a slow decline, but the causes are not clear. Market hunting went unchecked in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, research focuses on three basic areas: airborne pollutants carried into the Arctic breeding grounds that concentrate in sandpiper eggs; commercial development and farming across key migration routes in North America; and habitat loss on the sandpiper's wintering grounds due to ranching and urbanization. Buff-breasted Sandpipers have both suffered and benefited from increased ranching. If properly managed, grazing animals can create this sandpiper's short grass habitat without drying out the ground. Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may become another threat, as the accompanying roads and trash would support predators and disturb nesting.
 
Concern for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper has been mounting. Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, the United States, and Canada all list this shorebird as a species of conservation concern. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan designates the Buff-breasted Sandpiper as "highly imperiled." Government agencies and groups like the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network have begun to coordinate efforts to collect population data and to preserve short grass prairies from America's Great Plains to the Argentine pampas. Ultimately, the survival of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper depends on strong international coordination, which the Migratory Species Convention could facilitate.
What You Can Do
Join your local bird club to look for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper during fall migration. Because so few Buff-breasted Sandpipers now migrate through North America, they can be difficult to find.
 
Support the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts the sole breeding population of Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the United States.
 
Conservation efforts for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper depend on coordinated international efforts. Urge your state representatives to support sustained and productive communication by joining the Migratory Species Convention.
 
Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.
More Information
To learn more about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, visit the California Academy of Sciences Exhibit and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.
 
To learn more about the Migratory Species Convention and the involvement of the United States.
 
Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources.
Natural History References
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
 
Lanctot, Richard B., et al. "Conservation status of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper: historic and contemporary distribution and abundance in South America." Wilson Bulletin 114:1 (March 2002): p. 44-72.
 
Lanctot, R. B. and C. D. Laredo. 1994. Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis). In The Birds of North America, No. 91 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.
 
Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Conservation Status References
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
 
Lanctot, Richard B., et al. "Conservation status of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper: historic and contemporary distribution and abundance in South America." Wilson Bulletin 114:1 (March 2002): p. 44-72.
 
Lanctot, R. B. and C. D. Laredo. 1994. Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis). In The Birds of North America, No. 91 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.
 
Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.