New York Natural Heritage Program
Upland Sandpiper
Bartramia longicauda (Bechstein, 1812)

General Description [-]
Upland Sandpipers range from about 28-33 cm in size and are the most terrestrial of North American shorebirds. The sexes are outwardly alike; females average slightly larger than males. Breeding adults are overall scaly brown in appearance above with a long slender neck, small rounded head, and a relatively long tail. The throat and abdomen are white. The eye is large with a dark iris. The bill is short, slightly decurved and dusky at the tip. The legs and feet are yellow-grey. Downy young are a fine, mixed pattern of black, white and buff yellowish-brown above. A black stripe runs from the base of the bill over the top of the head. Juveniles resemble adults, but the upperparts are darker and scalier with the buffy color of the neck, breast and wings much deeper and the streaks of the fore neck and breast less distinct. Winter plumage is similar to that of the breeding adult, but paler (Houston and Bowen 2001).

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The unique vocalizations include a series of alarm notes and a penetrating "whip-whee-ee-you" windy whistle. The nest is a shallow depression in the ground approximately 10-13 cm in diameter and 5 cm deep, lined with dry grass. Nests are usually well hidden, frequently by vegetation that hangs over the nest hiding it from above. The eggs are cinnamon to pale olive-buff or greenish-white, spotted with brown and underlaying spots of pale grey (Bent 1929; Johnsgard 1981).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The Upland Sandpiper's long neck, large eyes, small head, and characteristic "wolf whistle" are diagnostic. Typically, birds hold their wings briefly erect after perching. The small dovelike head, long neck, and short yellowish bill imply an ungainly appearance, but movements are graceful and deliberate (Houston and Bowen 2001).

Behavior [-]
This bird is rarely seen near water and is not known to flock together with other shorebirds. It usually alights on the ground, but often on fence posts and telephone poles, rarely seen perching in trees. It nests in loose colonies, with communal feeding sites (not territorial). Colony sites are only moderately consistent from year to year, even with little apparent habitat change. Pairs typically arrive together on the breeding grounds for their brief (100-145 days) reproductive period. (Houston and Bowen 2001).

Diet [-]
Data on diet are lacking, especially in the northeast. In one study, small invertebrates (grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, snails, earthworms, millipedes) made up 95% of the diet and the remaining 5% was weed seeds. Grasshoppers, crickets and weevils formed the bulk of the invertebrates (Houston and Bowen 2001).
Upland Sandpiper Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Upland Sandpipers arrive in New York from their South American wintering grounds in late April, nesting begins in early-to-mid-May, hatching and fledging by mid June (the young are precocial), and the young are capable of flight by mid July (Morgan and Burger 2007). Birds typically begin to flock together and begin heading south during July-August (Yank and Breton 1996).
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Upland Sandpiper present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)
    The Upland Sandpiper has a much longer neck, bolder streaking on the breast, and a heavier bill. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is only a rare migrant visitor to New York.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
    The Upland Sandpiper has a much longer neck, bolder streaking on the breast, and larger eyes. The Pectoral Sandpiper is a migrant visitor to New York and usually occurs in large flocks.