Bird GuideSandpipersUpland Sandpiper

At a Glance

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.
Category
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Region
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Behavior
Direct Flight, Flushes, Rapid Wingbeats, Running
Population
750.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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

Description

11-12 1/2" (28-32 cm). Best known by habitat and shape. Long-tailed for a sandpiper, with thin neck, short bill, small dovelike head. Large eye conspicuous on plain face.
Size
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Color
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Alarm call a mellow quip-ip-ip-ip. On breeding grounds and at night during migration, a long, mournful, rolling whistle.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Trill, Whistle

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.

Behavior

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.

Feeding Behavior

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

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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Upland Sandpiper. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Upland Sandpiper

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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