Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

Photo by Ryan BradyBuff-breasted Sandpiper by Ryan Brady


Population Information

There currently are no broad-scale projects designed to identify population size or monitor changes within shorebird populations (Brown et al. 2001). The North American population estimate is 30,000 (Morrison et al. 2006).

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper nests in dry, sloped areas of the arctic tundra (Lanctot and Laredo 1994). In Wisconsin it is a rare migrant in a variety of open habitats, including sod farms, pastures, golf courses, plowed agricultural fields, and mudflats at the edges of freshwater lakes, ponds, and lagoons (Robbins 1991, Lanctot and Laredo 1994). The suitability of these habitats varies from year to year due to differences in precipitation and agricultural practices.

Habitat Availability

Although the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and other shorebirds are opportunistic and can capitalize on food resources wherever available during migration, the loss of wetlands and tiling and draining of agricultural fields has reduced foraging opportunities in Wisconsin. Prior to Euro-American settlement, wetlands occupied an estimated four million hectares of the total fourteen million hectares of Wisconsin’s land area. Today, 53% (2.1 million hectares) of these wetland habitats remain (WDNR 2003) and conditions at these sites can be extremely variable and highly dependent on precipitation and hydrology patterns (Szalay et al. 2000). Furthermore, exotic species (e.g., purple loosestrife, zebra mussel, carp) and industrial effluents have the potential to reduce invertebrate food resources at these sites (WDNR 2005). The conversion of pastures and other short-grass habitats to row crops also reduces foraging habitat in the state. Of the 850,000 hectares of native prairie present prior to Euro-American settlement, less than 4,000 hectares remain today (WDNR 2005). Stopover areas in Wisconsin important to Buff-breasted Sandpipers include: Horicon Marsh, Rainbow Flowage, and sod farms of southeastern Wisconsin.

Population Concerns

Widespread market hunting in the early twentieth century decimated Buff-breasted Sandpiper populations, resulting in near extinction. Despite regulatory protection in 1918 with the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this species remains well-below its historic numbers of hundreds of thousands of individuals (Lanctot and Laredo 1994). Today, the North American population estimate is 30,000 with strong, ongoing declines suspected (Lanctot et al. 2002, USSCP 2004, Morrison et al. 2006). Several factors complicate population trend monitoring for Buff-breasted Sandpipers, including their use of ephemeral wetland habitats, the remoteness of their breeding grounds, and a lack of information on turnover rates which confounds interpretation of migration surveys (Brown et al. 2001). Its relatively small population size and small number of concentration sites makes it highly vulnerable to habitat loss or catastrophic events. Ongoing broad-scale habitat alteration and land use changes at stopover sites and the wintering grounds likely are significant threats to this species but require further study (Lanctot and Laredo 1994, Szalay et al. 2000).

Recommended Management

Preventing habitat destruction and minimizing factors that compromise the maintenance of invertebrate populations are important management considerations. The continuation of wetland management, protection, and restoration efforts such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and North American Wetland Conservation Act will benefit this and other waterbird species. Wetland restoration efforts should create complexes of seasonal and semipermanent wetlands within areas that will increase overall wetland connectivity (Knapp 2001). Management actions (e.g., disking and flooding, control of invasive wetland plants, periodic, slow drawdown) that create mosaics of mudflats and shallow water areas will provide foraging habitat for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and other migrant shorebirds (Eldridge 1992). Managed wetland drawdowns should coincide with shorebird migration but should be staggered across units to extend habitat and food resource availability throughout the entire migratory period (Helmers 1992). Partnerships between state and federal agencies and private organizations dedicated to the restoration, conservation, and management of grassland ecosystems also will benefit the long-term management of Buff-breasted Sandpiper and other grassland-associated species. Conservation and management efforts for this species should be focused in the following Wisconsin ecological landscapes: Southeast Glacial Plains, Southern Lake Michigan Coastal, and Superior Coastal Plain (WDNR 2005).

Research Needs

Although research needs for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and most other shorebird species are significant, of primary importance is the identification of population limiting factors. This information is essential to better understand which factors need to be changed to increase shorebird populations. Improved survey methods and an institutional capacity for monitoring shorebirds also are urgently needed (Brown et al. 2001). A state assessment of the distribution, abundance, conditions, and ownership of wetlands and other important shorebird habitats also would further management efforts and guide future restoration projects (Szalay et al. 2000). More information on the dynamics of migration patterns is warranted, including how populations move among sites and why (Brown et al. 2001). In Wisconsin, comparative studies on the feeding ecologies of migrant shorebirds would help determine how coexisting species and their prey react to different wetland management regimes and habitat conditions. Color-banding individuals at stopover sites may help to determine length of stay, refueling capacity, impacts of disturbance, and important habitat features associated with these sites (Davis and Smith 1998, Szalay et al. 2000, Brown et al. 2001). Further surveys within the main wintering range of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper would provide valuable trend data and help delineate sites important for conservation (Lanctot et al. 2002). Comparative studies on the wintering habitat requirements of Buff-breasted Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover would help determine how these coexisting species react to changing cattle management practices (Lanctot and Laredo 1994).

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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