Conservation status Formerly abundant, now very uncommon. Many were killed by market hunters in late 1800s and early 1900s. Much of habitat for migrating and wintering birds has been destroyed or degraded. Many migrants now forage in plowed farm fields; possible effects of agricultural chemicals on these birds are unknown.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Shortgrass prairies; in summer, tundra ridges. Migrants in North America mostly on dry open ground, such as prairies, pastures, airports, stubble fields, plowed fields. Sometimes on shores of lakes or ponds, or on coastal flats, but even there it tends to be on higher and drier sections. Breeds on tundra slopes and ridges with ponds or streams nearby.
A beautiful but strange little sandpiper, its short bill and round head giving it the look of a plover. On migration it typically stops on prairies, fields of short grass, and even dry plowed fields, seemingly odd settings for a shorebird. Formerly an abundant bird, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper suffered serious declines around the beginning of the 20th century, with many shot during their long migration from the Arctic tundra to the pampas of Argentina.

Feeding Behavior

Searches for food by sight, standing still and then making short run forward to capture prey, picking up insects and other items from surface of ground.


4, rarely 2 or 3. Whitish to buff or olive, with brown marks concentrated at larger end. Incubation by female only, 23-25 days. Young: Downy young leave nest less than a day after hatching. Female tends young, but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 16-20 days.


Downy young leave nest less than a day after hatching. Female tends young, but young feed themselves. Age at first flight about 16-20 days.


Mostly insects. Diet not well known, but probably mostly insects at all seasons. On breeding grounds, eats many flies (including crane flies and midges), also beetles and other insects. During migration, besides insects, also eats spiders and small crustaceans; sometimes eats seeds.


Males gather on display grounds, or "leks," to attract females. These leks are spread out, each male defending an area of up to several acres; rarely more than 10 males present. Male displays by raising one wing, showing off white underside. If females approach, male spreads both wings wide, points bill up, shakes body. One male may mate with several females, and male takes no part in caring for the eggs or young. Nest site is on ground, usually near water, often on a hummock of moss. Nest (built by female) is shallow depression, lined with leaves, sedges, lichens, moss.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Download Our Bird Guide App


Migration route through Great Plains is used by most birds in fall and almost all in spring. During fall, uncommon on Atlantic Coast, rare on Pacific Coast. Adults migrate south earlier in fall than juveniles, on average.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

Songs and Calls

A low tik-tik-tik.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.