Buff-breasted sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)
|Size||Length: 45 cm (2)|
|Weight||55 – 60 g (2)|
- Male buff-breasted sandpiper’s flash the bright white feathers underneath their wings to attract females.
- Spreading his wings, pointing his beak in the air and shaking his body whilst calling is the male buff-breasted sandpipers favoured courtship routine.
- Incredibly, buff-breasted sandpiper chicks leave the nest less than 12 hours after hatching.
The buff-breasted sandpiper is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (4) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern (5). It is a ‘Species of High Conservation Concern’ on the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan (6).
This small, attractive bird has a long, straight bill and greenish-yellow legs (7). The sexes are alike in colouration; both have a pale brown body elegantly spotted with black. The crown has fine streaks of black which extend down the hind neck and over the back to the tail, giving the appearance of overlapping black scales on the upperparts. The sides of the head and body are paler brown with less conspicuous black markings, fading to cream on the throat and breast. Juveniles are slightly paler overall (2).
Breeding along the Arctic coasts from central Alaska to Devon Island, Canada, as well as on Wrangel Island and west Chukotka, Russia, the buff-breasted sandpiper migrates through the Greater and Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean to winter in eastern South America (8). It is occasionally recorded in the Afro-tropics (2).
During the breeding season, the buff-breasted sandpiper is found on dry, sloping tundra, or in tundra regions with both wet and dry areas. Whilst on migration this sandpiper stops in dry grasslands, earning it the nickname ‘grasspiper’. Throughout the winter it is found mainly on Argentina’s pampas grasslands (6).
The buff-breasted sandpiper is the only North American shorebird that courts using a lek mating system. Males gather on display grounds, where they attempt to attract visiting females by lifting a wing to expose the bright white plumage of the underwing. If more than one female is present, the males spread both wings, angle their bills in the air, shake their bodies up and down and utter several short calls. Females then approach the male they wish to mate with; successful males may mate with more than one female. The female builds a nest on the ground and lines it with grass. Three to four eggs are laid and incubated by the female for three weeks. Remarkably, the chicks leave the nest less than 12 hours after hatching in order to feed themselves (6).
Buff-breasted sandpipers feed on earthworms, aquatic insects and larvae, and seeds (7). They forage in small flocks of up to 15 birds, walking in a crouched position and lifting the legs high with each step. They move quickly, frequently changing direction and bobbing the head like a pigeon. During the non-breeding season, they are fairly unafraid and can be approached (2). They migrate bi-annually from various breeding grounds to favoured wintering grounds in autumn, and back to the breeding grounds in spring (8).
At the end of the 19th century the buff-breasted sandpiper numbered in the hundreds of thousands to perhaps millions, but was brought to the brink of extinction in the early 1920s by hunting. Although the population has now increased, it still stands at just 5,000 – 15,000 individuals. It is notoriously difficult to assess numbers of this species since it is faithful to neither the breeding grounds nor the wintering grounds, but it is thought to be in decline. The modern threats are not understood but it has been suggested that habitat change at the breeding sites has prevented adequate reproductive rates. It appears to rely on intensive grazing by livestock, but previously grazed pampas is being converted to agricultural land. It may also be susceptible to the agricultural pesticides used in the regions passed through on migration (8).
Conservation action for the buff-breasted sandpiper is in the early stages, with work being done to preserve grassland habitats. More survey work to determine the range and distribution of this species is planned, but it is known to be present in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (6).
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- Lek: system of mating in which males display collectively in an area known as a lek. Males compete for the best sites within the lek and females then choose which male to mate with on the basis of the display.
IUCN Red List (March, 2005)
Institute of African Ornithology (March, 2005)
CMS (March, 2005)
Berne Convention (March, 2005)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (March, 2005)
Audubon (March, 2005)
Boreal Forest (March, 2005)
BirdLife International (March, 2005)