Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Upland Sandpiper

The late 1800s and all of the 1900s were tough for Upland Sandpipers. At first the birds were over-hunted. Boxcar loads of carcasses were shipped to bird markets. Sport hunters also took a high toll, since no seasons or limits existed. Perhaps more ominously, Upland Sandpipers are an “obligate grassland species” (Houston et al. 2011). To raise their young, these birds require healthy prairie-lands. Such habitat has been plowed for agricultural and financial purposes (even today, plowed land is often worth more when ranchers are forced to sell their acreage). Now they are a species of concern in at least 22 states and provinces.

Upland Sandpipers breed across the northern Great Plains (this photo was taken in south-central South Dakota). They also breed in Alaska and in northeastern North America. The sandpipers are rare in the northeast due to lack of prairie. There one of the best places to search is the grass along airport runways. I saw my first Upland Sandpiper from a plane at the Columbus, Ohio, airport. In South Dakota the species is fairly common in grassland habitat and it is only locally common across western Minnesota. Our birds winter in South America east of the Andes. (Birds spend more time outside North America, so calling them “ours” may be misleading.)

When I first saw this species in Columbus, we called it the Upland Plover, even though everyone knew it is actually a sandpiper. The common name actually has quite a history. In 1882 it was known as a Bartramian Tattler (commemorating William Bartram, an early American ornithologist; and tattler referring to a type of sandpiper). Later the same decade, the name was changed to Bartramian Sandpiper. Between 1910 and 1973, the official name became Upland Plover. Only since 1973 has the species been known as Upland Sandpiper (Houston et al. 2011).

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky enough to see a nesting pair last summer in Northern Michigan. Interesting post, thank you!