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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flushes, Rapid Wingbeats, Running
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.
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.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Forages by walking through the grass, with rather abrupt or jerky movements, picking up items from ground or from vegetation.
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.
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.
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.
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.