This large sandpiper is often a surprise to birders who aren't expecting a shorebird to be away from the shore, but the upland sandpiper is found primarily in dry grasslands and similar open habitats. Large and distinctive, this is a lovely shorebird to add to your life list even if there's no shore nearby.
Upland Sandpiper, Upland Plover, Bartram's Sandpiper, Uppy
- Bill: Short, thin, yellow with brown-black tip, very slightly decurved at tip
- Size: 12 inches long with 17-20-inch wingspan, long thin neck, long legs, round head, large dark eyes, heavy abdomen
- Colors: Buff, brown, black, white, yellow, yellow-green
- Markings: Genders are similar with mottled brown head and upperparts that show buff edging to feathers. Finer streaking can be seen on the head, face and throat, and the crown may be slightly darker. The breast is pale with dark bars or Y-shaped chevrons, and the rump is dark. The wedge-shaped tail shows thin black barring but is lighter on the outer tail feathers. The abdomen and undertail coverts are plain and pale whitish-buff, though some barring is visible on the flanks. Wingtips are dark brown or blackish. In flight, the wings are pointed with barring on the underside and may seem similar to small accipiters. Legs and feet are yellow or yellow-green. Juveniles are similar to adults but markings appear more scaly overall and the color is more muted with less contrast. Species is monotypic.
Insects, seeds, grains, mollusks (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These large shorebirds prefer grasslands, prairies, hayfields and similar open, dry habitats with only minimal brushy cover, and they are often seen near airports or sod farms within their range. During the summer breeding season, upland sandpipers can be found from Alaska and the Yukon Territory through central Canada and the northern Great Plains area of the United States as far west as eastern Montana and Wyoming stretching to Kansas and to the east coast, though populations are larger in the west. These birds migrate to South America, beginning their journey as early as mid-July and spending winters in eastern Bolivia, southwest Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina.
Vagrant sightings are regularly reported far east and south of the typical expected breeding range, and upland sandpipers are often recorded in Europe as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland during fall migration.
These sandpipers have a trilling song and a pipe-like flight call with rapid syllables and a melodic rattling. Singing is part of their courtship, and they can be very vocal in flight though may be quite silent on the ground.
Upland sandpipers are relatively solitary birds and can be wary, often perching on posts, rocks or utility poles to continually scan for predators or intruders. While foraging, they run short distances and stop quickly to delicately pick insects off the ground. After landing, they characteristically raise their wings above their backs for a second or two before folding them.
These are monogamous birds that form loose nesting colonies. Males attract females with intricate courtship flights that include high circling patterns and trembling songs. After mating, both parents work to build a scrape nest on the ground and line it with dry grasses. The 2-7 eggs per brood are a creamy pale color or may show a pink or buff tinge, and they have a distinct pear shape. Both parents incubate the eggs for 21-27 days, and only one brood is laid per year.
After hatching, the precocial chicks leave the nest very soon and are able to forage on their own immediately. The parents remain nearby for protection and guidance, however, and may perform distraction displays if they feel their offspring are threatened. Young upland sandpipers make their first flights at roughly 29-31 days old.
Attracting Upland Sandpipers:
These birds are not typical backyard birds, but will visit backyards in their range if grassy areas are allowed to grow naturally dry and longer. Ground-feeding areas with scattered seeds and grain can also attract upland sandpipers, as will ground bird baths. Leaving old fence posts intact can provide suitable perches for these birds to survey their territory.
In the past, upland sandpipers have been heavily overhunted and their eggs harvested as delicacies, leading to steep population declines. Today, populations have significantly recovered and the birds are not listed as endangered, but they are uncommon and local population declines are carefully monitored. These birds are still vulnerable to unauthorized hunting, and habitat loss is another concern, especially in agricultural grazing areas where livestock may destroy nests.
- Little Curlew (Numenius minutus)
- Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
- Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
Photo – Upland Sandpiper © pesayo