Photo: Richard Crossley/Vireo

Upland Sandpiper

Bartramia longicauda

The ghostly, breathy whistle of the Upland Sandpiper is one of the characteristic sounds of spring on the northern Great Plains. The bird sings sometimes from the tops of fenceposts or poles, but often on the wing, flying high with shallow, fluttering wingbeats. When it lands, it may be hard to see in the tall grass of its typical habitat. Because of its short bill and round-headed shape, was once called "Upland Plover," but it is a true sandpiper, and apparently a close relative of the curlews.
Conservation status Numbers probably increased in the early days of settlement, up through the early 1800s, as forest was turned into farmland in eastern North America. During the period of commercial hunting in the late 1800s, great numbers were shot, and the population dropped sharply. Since that time, Upland Sandpipers have recovered in a few areas. Their numbers are apparently holding steady on parts of Great Plains, but in much of the east and northeast they are now very local.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Grassy prairies, open meadows, fields. Favored nesting habitat is native grassland, with mixture of tall grass and broad-leafed weeds. In the northeast, where natural grassland is now scarce, may be found most often on airports. In migration, stops on open pastures, lawns. Almost never on mudflats or other typical shorebird habitats.
The ghostly, breathy whistle of the Upland Sandpiper is one of the characteristic sounds of spring on the northern Great Plains. The bird sings sometimes from the tops of fenceposts or poles, but often on the wing, flying high with shallow, fluttering wingbeats. When it lands, it may be hard to see in the tall grass of its typical habitat. Because of its short bill and round-headed shape, was once called "Upland Plover," but it is a true sandpiper, and apparently a close relative of the curlews.
Photo Gallery
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking through the grass, with rather abrupt or jerky movements, picking up items from ground or from vegetation.


Eggs

4. Pale buff to pinkish-buff, lightly spotted with reddish-brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 22-27 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young feed themselves. If nest or young are threatened, adults perform distraction display to lead predators away. Age of young at first flight about 30-31 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young feed themselves. If nest or young are threatened, adults perform distraction display to lead predators away. Age of young at first flight about 30-31 days.

Diet

Mostly insects, some seeds. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including many grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and their larvae, moth caterpillars, and many others; also spiders, centipedes, earthworms, snails. Also eats some seeds of grasses and weeds, and waste grain in fields.


Nesting

Male displays over breeding territory in song-flight, with shallow, fluttering wingbeats and drawn-out whistles, often very high above the ground. May nest in loose colonies, with all the pairs in a local area going through stages of nesting (egg-laying, hatching, etc.) at almost exactly the same time. Nest site is on ground among dense grass, typically well hidden, with grass arched above it. Nest (probably built by both sexes) is shallow scrape on ground, lined with dry grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

A long-distance migrant, vacating North America entirely in winter. Migrates mostly through Great Plains in both spring and fall.

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Migration

A long-distance migrant, vacating North America entirely in winter. Migrates mostly through Great Plains in both spring and fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Alarm call a mellow quip-ip-ip-ip. On breeding grounds and at night during migration, a long, mournful, rolling whistle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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Grassland Birds

Grassland Birds

Developing market-based management of dwindling prairie habitat that benefits birds and ranchers alike

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