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Mega sighting – Buff-breasted Sandpiper – Namibia

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis – sighted on Friday 13th at Mile 4 Salt Works north of Swakopmund.


Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis – breeds in the open arctic tundra of North America and is a very long-distance migrant, spending the non-breeding season mainly in South America, especially Argentina. It migrates mainly through central North America, and is uncommon on the coasts. It occurs as a regular wanderer to Western Europe. Outside the breeding season, this bird is normally found on short-grass habitats such as airfields or golf-courses, rather than near water. It is sometimes referred to as a "grasspiper," because of its preference for grassy areas over the coastal mudflats favored by most shorebirds.


This small, attractive bird has a long, straight bill and greenish-yellow legs. The sexes are alike in colouration. They both have a pale brown body elegantly spotted with black. The crown has fine streaks of black which extend down the hind neck and over the back to the tail, giving the appearance of overlapping black scales on the upperparts. The sides of the head and body are paler brown with less conspicuous black markings, fading to cream on the throat and breast. Juveniles are slightly paler overall


Usually silent in flight, but occasionally utters a low soft “gerk” on rising. A strange clicking sound. This is the call of a male Buff-breasted Sandpiper courting a female on their breeding grounds far north of the Arctic Circle. He raises his wings, flashing their silvery-white undersides, as he sings his clicking serenade.


Buff-breasted sandpipers feed on earthworms, aquatic insects and larvae, and seeds. They forage in small flocks of up to 15 birds.


The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is unique among North American shorebirds in having a lek mating system. Males defend relatively small territories that provide no resources for females and are simply display sites to which females can be attracted. Females select a mate and then leave to nest and raise their chicks elsewhere. They breed in dry, grassy tundra and nest on the ground, laying 2 to 5 eggs. The chicks leave the nest less than 12 hours after hatching in order to feed themselves.

Conservation Status – Near Threatened

Population declined from millions to near extinction by 1920s largely due to hunting. Numbers appeared to increase, but may be declining again. The modern threats are not understood but it has been suggested that habitat change at the breeding sites has prevented adequate reproductive rates. It appears to rely on intensive grazing by livestock, but previously grazed pampas is being converted to agricultural land. It may also be susceptible to the agricultural pesticides used in the regions passed through on migration. Conservation action for the buff-breasted sandpiper is in the early stages, with work being done to preserve grassland habitats.


Ask Aves Birding Tours/Safaris/Adventures to create a custom tour for you to see these threatened shorebirds.

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