Species Spotlight: Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Common name: Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Latin name: Tryngites subruficollis
Status under SARA: Special Concern, 2012 COSEWIC assessment: Special Concern
Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec
Size: average length of 18-20 cm; average wingspan of 43-47 cm
Population estimate: The global estimate of Buff-breasted Sandpipers is 56,000 birds (between 35,000-78,000), of which around 42,000 likely breeds in Canada.
- The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a medium-sized shorebird with a buff-coloured (yellowish-beige) face and underside, and brown to black speckling on its wings and back.
- There is limited data on the food this sandpiper eats, however, there have been observations of spring migrants show mostly terrestrial invertebrates, including spiders; insect adults, larvae, and pupae; and plant seeds (Rowan 1927c). In fall, it has been observed that it feeds on copepods, crane-flies, and gammarid crustacean (Johnsgard 1981).
- The Buff-breasted Sandpiper breeds in the Arctic regions of eastern Russia, Alaska, Yukon and northcentral Canada. It winters in South America, mainly in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. About 87% of its North American range is in Canada.
- It is the only North American shorebird to engage in lek mating displays – males congregating in groups to attract females with courtship displays.
- Females usually lay a clutch of four eggs in a shallow depression often lined with grasses, moss or lichens. These nests are established away from the leks. The eggs hatch early to mid-July.
- Buff-breasted Sandpipers tend to be quite tame and they often return to wounded flock members, which has made them vulnerable to hunting in the past.
- The southbound migration to their wintering grounds can begin as early as mid-June to early July with the departure of males and non-breeding females, followed later in the summer by breeding females then finally the young. The northbound migration begins in early February through late March.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Buff-breasted Sandpipers were victim to commercial hunting, especially as they migrated through the central United States. Today, it is illegal to hunt them in both the United States and Canada, though they continue to be hunted to a minor extent in Latin America.
As with many shorebirds, Buff-breasted Sandpipers are vulnerable to environmental disturbance because of factors such as their long-distance migration, their periodic concentration in large numbers at a limited number of sites, and their use of habitats often targeted for human activities like crop production or industrial development. Habitat loss appears to be the primary threat to the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
In the Canadian Arctic, the distribution of Buff-breasted Sandpipers overlaps with mining and coal exploration developments. Although the impact of development activities on the species is still unclear, the required infrastructure of such projects, like bridges and roads, is often located in the drier upland habitat – prime courtship-display territory. This could result in increased disturbances during the breeding season. Additionally, the garbage accumulated at work sites attracts an increased number of predators who prey on eggs and young.
Away from the breeding grounds, much of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper’s preferred habitat in North and South America has been converted to cropland and human settlement. Furthermore, the North American grasslands the sandpipers depend on is often fragmented. Changes in livestock grazing patterns also affect the birds. They prefer pastures with short grass and, in an effort to prevent overgrazing, livestock is often moved around which results in longer grass. In Brazil, illegal construction of drainage canals may also pose a threat to the birds.
Sandpipers are also vulnerable to pesticide use and climate change. Agrochemicals ingested either directly or indirectly through food, may have severe, negative effects on shorebirds, ranging from death to physiological impairment. Additionally, changes in temperature and weather conditions have caused a desynchronization between breeding periods and availability of food.
What’s Being Done
Currently, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is listed under “Special Concern” according to both the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The species is protected under Canada’s federal Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), as well as under provincial/territorial legislation such as Alberta’s Wildlife Act (2000), Saskatchewan’s Wildlife Act (1998), and Nunavut’s Wildlife Act (2003). However, these protections do not extend to its habitat.
Hunting the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is illegal in Canada and the United States.
What You Can Do
- Support habitat conservation and bird conservation initiatives.
- Do your part as an individual to mitigate climate change; make earth-friendly consumer choices to limit your greenhouse gas emissions
Thanks to Nature Canada volunteer Amanda Simard for contributing this profile.