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Upland Sandpiper

Photograph of Upland Sandpiper on a fence post
©Philip Jeffrey Photography

Scientific name: Bartramia longicauda

New York Status: Threatened
Federal Status: Not Listed


Referred to as the shorebird of the prairies, the upland sandpiper spends little time near water and is an obligate grassland species. The adult measures 11-13 inches with a long, thin neck and small head with large, dark eyes and white eye ring. This bird is a medium-sized sandpiper with long, yellow legs and a short, thin bill. Adult coloration is buff above with dark brown barring. The sexes are appear similar. In flight, the dark outer wings contrast with light under wing coverts. The upland sandpiper commonly perches on fence posts with wings raised after landing. Their tail is proportionally long and extends past wingtips while perched. Juveniles are similar to adults with a pale head. The call of the upland sandpiper is unique and commonly referred to as a wolf whistle.

Life History

The upland sandpiper returns to its breeding grounds in early spring, arriving in New York by late April. Pairs arrive together or form immediately after arrival and remain in loose colonies for nesting. Nest preparation begins approximately two weeks after arrival. Age at first breeding is one year and pairs rear only one brood per season. Pairs construct nests on the ground, using clumps of grass or other vegetation for cover. A clutch of 4 eggs is laid and incubated by both parents for 21-29 days.

map showing the breeding range of the upland sandpiper
Upland sandpiper range map from Birds of the World,
maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Chicks are precocial (born at an advanced state) and leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. Age at fledging is 30 days. Pair remains together for one week after hatching and then the female leaves. Chicks are able to procure their own food within a few days of hatching. Diet consists almost entirely of flying insects but will also feed on other small invertebrates. Glean insects from ground while walking. It is an early fall migrant and leaves New York for wintering grounds by mid September.

Distribution and Habitat

Breeding range extends from southern Canada south through the central plains states from the Rocky Mountains east to the Appalachian Mountains. In the northeastern United States populations are declining due to loss of grassland habitat. Historically the upland sandpiper was reported as a locally common breeder in parts of New York.

Today the state population is restricted to remaining grassland habitats of the St. Lawrence Valley in Jefferson County and the Mohawk Valley. It remains an uncommon breeder throughout the state in agricultural areas and grasslands surrounding airports. Breeding pairs have been reported at John F. Kennedy International Airport since 1969.


During the late 19th century, the upland sandpiper population suffered pressure from market hunters after the extinction of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). Across the northeast population declines have coincided with the loss of grassland habitat since the mid 1900s. Once a locally common breeder in the mid Hudson and Mohawk valleys and agricultural areas of New York, the upland sandpiper is now considered to be an uncommon breeder and migrant in most parts of the state.

Management and Research Needs

Map of Upland Sandpiper in New York
Distribution of upland sandpiper in New York from
1st and 2nd NYS Breeding Bird Atlas records.

Population declines across the northeast are the result of habitat loss. Grassland area across the state has decreased over the last 30 years as a result of development, vegetative succession, and a reduction in pasture and hayfields.

Management efforts for the upland sandpiper and other grassland birds in New York have focused primarily on the preservation of open grasslands. Maintaining large, contiguous tracts of grasslands and preventing the encroachment of woody vegetation are important to preserving upland sandpiper habitat. Mowing, plowing, and burning of fields should be avoided during the nesting season. Further research needed on the use of airports by nesting pairs.