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For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
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Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)



Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), listed as Threatened, prefers grasslands with low to moderate forb cover, <5% woody cover, moderate grass cover, moderate litter cover, and little bare ground. Dominant breeding habitats in Wisconsin include lightly grazed pastures, old fields, idle upland grasslands, barrens, and hayfields for nesting. Heavily grazed pasture, hayfields, fallow fields, and row crops are used for foraging. The required avoidance period is April 30 - July 25.

State status

Note: Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) was added to the Wisconsin E/T list on January 1, 2014 per administrative rule ER-27-11. Learn more

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Bartramia longicauda in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2B
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Identification: An adult is roughly 12" long with a 26" wingspan. The average weight is 6 oz. This odd bird has a small dove-like head on a long neck. It is heavily marbled black and brown on the back and wings. The neck is streaked with dark brown which continues down to the breast and on to the flanks. The belly and undertail coverts are white. The tail is quite long for a sandpiper. The Upland also sports a white eyering and long yellow legs. Bill blackish above, edges light brownish or dull yellowish, below brownish or yellowish, dusky at tip (Roberts 1936). Bill slender, straight, with slight downcurve at very tip (Palmer 1967). Legs And Feet: Yellowish ochre, dirty grayish yellow or greenish yellow (Roselaar 1983). Hindtoe well developed (Palmer 1967).

Habitat: Upland Sandpipers prefer short- to mid-height grasslands with low to moderate forb cover, low woody cover, moderate amounts of residual vegetation and litter, and little bare ground (Sample and Mossman 1997). In Wisconsin, Upland Sandpipers prefer large, open landscapes with short to mid height grassy vegetation, including remnant prairie, lightly grazed pastures, barrens, old fields and other idle grasslands, and hay fields. (Sample and Mossman 1997; Cutright, et al. 2006). Loafing and brood-rearing habitats include heavily grazed pasture, hayfields, fallow fields and row crops (Sample and Mossman 1997).

Rationale for Species Listing and Threats: North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data indicate a significant population decline both in Wisconsin and eastern North America from 1999-2009 (Sauer, et al. 2011). Barrens, idle grasslands, old fields, fallow fields, and pastures large enough to attract Upland Sandpipers are rare and subject to fragmentation, especially on private agricultural lands that they are attracted to (Sample and Mossman 1997). Conversion of pasture, idle grassland, and fallow fields to row crops, the growth of trees in fence lines, and rural and suburban development have lowered the available habitat on private lands.

Diet: From 165 stomachs collected in the U.S.: almost 97% animal matter (nearly 50% grasshoppers and crickets [Orthoptera] and weevils. Year-round, captures low-flying insects and other invertebrates while walking on ground.

Clutch: Of 668 nests (in N. Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Kansas), 645 (97%) had four eggs.

Incubation: During incubation, adults rarely seen, although only one is on nest (Buss and Hawkins 1939). Both sexes presumably incubate.

Nest: Descriptions of nest-site vegetation include: in a hollow in an open sandy area (Bent 1929); with tufts of grass or a prairie rose arching over the nest (Buss and Hawkins 1939); beneath "pasque flowers, the leaves and fruiting plumes of which completely covered and embowered" the nest, leaving only an entrance on one side (Roberts 1936: 490). Nest preparation begins about 14-15 d after individuals arrive in Wisconsin. Nests only on ground; uses both native and cultivated vegetation for nest sites, with no clear preference over their breeding range (Dechant et al. 1999).

Life and Natural History: Walks like a plover, with a "nervous way of running for a short distance, stopping suddenly to peck on the ground and then dubiously running again" (Rowan 1926: 84). Adults and even young birds sometimes "teeter," the body moving up and down while head remains stationary. Such movements are not as vigorous or prolonged as in Spotted Sandpiper ( Ailes 1976).

On breeding grounds, flies slowly at a low elevation, using flutter stroke reminiscent of a hovering Willet or American Kestrel. Uses flutter stroke while giving long mellow whistle and when flushed from nest as it flies close to ground.

Rarely nests alone, often in loose colonies (Buss and Hawkins 1939). During breeding season in Wisconsin, Buss and Hawkins (1939) observed pairs feeding, resting, flying and dusting peaceably side by side, with little or no evidence of territoriality. Loafing and feeding sites were communal. Nesting territories were usually grouped; one exceptional pair repeatedly repulsed attempts of another pair to enter their "territory." Males frequently defend mates from other males, and pairs occasionally defend their young from other adults. Pairs and singles move freely through feeding areas and show no attachment to a particular site (Ailes 1976). Week-old sandpipers are extremely active in pursuit of their own food (Buss 1951). Once females leave broods, their whereabouts unknown. When approached by humans, parents with young run from the brood and then fly, giving alarm calls; nondisplaying adults stand near brood, and other adults may join brood, giving alarm calls. When chicks are caught, attending adults land nearby and feign injury in manner of a Killdeer: tail spread out, wings flapping, emitting high-pitched squeals, and sometimes flying directly at intruder (Coues 1874, Forbush 1912), and even brushing his pantleg (Dorio 1977). Before nesting and during laying in Kansas, adults with young frequently perform distraction displays and may be joined by other adults to mob intruders (Coues 1874, Bowen 1976), although this behavior was not observed in Alaska, Manitoba, or N. Dakota (Sordahl 1981).

Complete, long-distance migrant between breeding areas in s. Canada and n. U.S. and wintering areas in South America. Both spring and fall, most follow the same narrow band, south-north and then north-south, through the Great Plains (Skagen et al. 1999) and Middle America. Migrates largely at night (Palmer 1967). Nocturnal flight over Iowa City, IA, in 1878, lasted more than an hour (Dinsmore 1994).

Management Guidelines:

  • Grassland/barrens restorations and management should focus on large blocks of habitat (>100ha) as Upland Sandpiper densities have been shown to correlate with patch size (DeChant et al. 2003). Creating or maintaining landscapes where grassland blocks are contiguous or close together, creating a grassy habitat matrix, will benefit this species (DeChant et al. 2003). Creating Grassland Bird Conservation Areas - 10,000 acre landscapes with a 2,000 acre core of permanent grass, and another 1,000 to 2,000 acres of permanent and long-term grass cover in the matrix around the core, will help maintain an Upland Sandpiper population (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2009). These Bird Conservation Areas should also have minimized tree and shrub cover (generally below 10%) and housing/commercial development.
  • Site-level management for UPSA should provide short-medium height vegetation with moderate amounts of litter, residual vegetation, and grass:forb ratio (Sample and Mossman 1997). Patches of trees or wooded fencelines should be removed to provide necessary open space.
  • Incorporate light to moderate grazing and late hay mowing schedules (after 15 July) on both privately and publicly owned grasslands.
  • 2-4 year burning regimes are beneficial for this species.
  • Control invasive plants such as yellow parsnip, crown vetch, leafy spurge, sweet clover, spotted knapweed and others on prairie and surrogate prairie grassland habitats.
  • Consider placement of wooden fenceposts for perches on lands managed for Upland Sandpipers.
  • Promote agricultural conservation programs that promote grasslands, especially programs that allow for permanent protection of short- to mid-grass habitats and that permit light grazing and delayed haying on private lands. Discourage tree planting/succession in potentail or known breeding habitat.



Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper.

Photo by  staff, WDNR.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper, Illinois.

Photo © unknown unknown.

Upland Sandpiper

Immature Upland Sandpiper, Illinois.

Photo © unknown unknown.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper nest, Illinois.

Photo © unknown unknown.

Upland Sandpiper

Maintaining a viable population of the Upland Sandpiper in the Western Prairie EL will depend on protection and appropriate mgmt of extensive blocks of unfragmented grassland habitat.

Photo © Dawn Scranton.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Upland Sandpiper. Only natural communities for which Upland Sandpiper is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Upland Sandpiper. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Upland Sandpiper occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, December 22, 2022