Long-distance voyager

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) is a light buff-colored, diminutive shorebird that is unsuspicious of an approaching human.  This may contribute to its steep decline over the past century, as well as the loss of the short grass habitats it favors.  It is one of the longest distance migratory birds in North America, with one individual known to have flown 41,000 km round trip between its high Arctic nest site and its wintering site in southern South America.

At 18 cm in length and weighing only 60-70 gms the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a relatively small inconspicuous, delicate, and slender sandpiper.  Its small head is dove-like and it has yellow legs.  Often they are seen alone or in small numbers and appear as a smaller, pale version of the Upland Sandpiper, which it often shares grassy habitats with.

The “Buffie’s” small size is compensated for on the breeding grounds where males gather into leks and perform elaborate displays with their wings held high, vertical aerial displays face-face-with other males.  On the ground they battle each other using wings and feet, while females mildly stand by and await the victors.  Buff-breasted Sandpiper leave the Arctic in late summer, travel a mid-continental route through the heartland of the US as well as an inland route in South America to the flooded Pampas grasslands of Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil.

Of all shorebirds, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper requires the shortest of grassland, and preferably with just the right amount of flooding.  The species largely relies on grazed lands and sod farms during migration.  They are mainly insect eaters.