Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ed Schneider

At a Glance

  • Scientific Name: Tryngites subruficollis
  • Population: 16,000-84,000
  • Trend:  Decreasing
  • Habitat: Breeds in Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada, winters on short-grass pampas of South America

Buff-breasted Sandpiper map, NatureServeThe dainty Buff-breasted Sandpiper divides its time between its Arctic tundra breeding grounds and grasslands during migration and winter. It's often found far from the water's edge where many people expect to see shorebirds.

Once believed to number in the millions, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is now uncommon, its population depleted from hunting in the early 20th century. Habitat loss along its migration path though the central U.S. and on its wintering grounds in South America, as well as pesticide use, have further diminished its numbers.

Life on the Lek

“Buffies” are champion long-distance migrants, flying thousands of miles from the high Arctic south to Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia in southern South America — and then back — each year.

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Unique among North American shorebirds, male Buff-breasted Sandpipers gather on display territories, called leks, where they compete for females' attention. The male's dramatic display includes raising its wings to flash the silvery-white undersides, pointing its beak in the air, and shaking its body while calling.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Dan Behm

Buff-breasted Sandpiper by Dan Behm

After mating at the lek site, the female moves elsewhere to build a nest on the ground and raise her young. The chicks hatch with their eyes open and a coat of downy feathers, and are ready to leave the nest less than 12 hours after hatching.

Saving a Sandpiper

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is included on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Management actions that would benefit the species include limiting pesticide use in agricultural areas and maintaining suitable habitat on the birds' wintering grounds and stopover sites. Limiting oil development would also help to preserve the birds' existing lek and nesting sites.

ABC and partner Asociación Armonía have protected an important stopover site at Bolivia's Barba Azul Reserve, where large numbers of Buffies pause after crossing the Amazon basin during fall migration to feed and rest before continuing their long journey to the grasslands of Argentina.

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