Buff-breasted sandpiper walking in freshly sprouted grass
Buff-breasted sandpiper More than 30% of the entire species population was documented in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma during spring migration. © Flickr user Seabamirum (CC by 2.0)

Stories in Kansas

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

May 2018 Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

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Buff-breasted sandpipers are actually more common in the Flint Hills than at the large central Kansas wetlands like Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Widllife Refufge. More than 30% of the entire species population of buff-breasted sandpipers have been documented in the Flint Hills (both Kansas and Oklahoma) during spring migration. It is one of a handful of shorebirds known as 'grassland dependent,' preferring to feed on dry land with little vegetation. The freshly burned and grazed pastures of the tallgrass prairie are the buffet right in the heart of their narrow migration path through the middle of North America.

Fun Fact

Public Displays of Affection: buff-breasted sandpipers are one of the few shorebirds to mate on a lek, where the males dance with their wings lifted to show off the white underfeathers all in the hope of attracting a female.

Charcoal drawing of a buff-breasted sandpiper
Buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) More than 30% of the entire species population of buff-breasted sandpipers have been documented in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma. © Robert Penner/TNC

HABITAT & RANGE

Buff-breasted sandpipers (Calidris subruficollis) spend their entire lifecycle in grasslands. They breed in the grassy tundra of the Arctic, migrate through the Heartland and spend the winter in the pampas grass of South America. Annual migration routes can top 18,000 miles round-trip. 

CONSERVATION STATUS

Watch/Imperiled. Current population estimates range from 16,000 to 84,000 - considerably less than the million or more that once inhabited the western hemisphere. In 2016, The Nature Conservancy led the process to designate the Flint Hills as a Landscape of Hemispheric Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network based on years of bird surveys that showed the significant portion of the buff-breasted sandpipers that relied on this important tallgrass prairie. Beyond the layer of awareness granted by the designation, the Conservancy also works with landowners in the Flint Hills to help them consider shorebirds and habitat in their land management activities. 

CHEYENNE BOTTOMS AREA STATUS

Rare. More likely to be seen in the fall (late-July to mid-October) than in the spring (mid-April to late-May).  Instead, look for buff-breasted sandpipers during these migration times at places like the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills.

 

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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD