Alaska Science Center

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis

High-Priority Species List

Buff-breasted Sandpipers are a high priority species because a small portion of the population breeds in Asia on Wrangel Island and western Chukotka mainland and then migrates through Alaska to its nonbreeding grounds in southern South America. The species would need to interact with other birds traveling through Asian H5N1 virus infected areas to come in contact with the virus, and then bring the virus back to Alaska in the fall.
A small proportion (tens to hundreds) of the world’s population of 15,000 Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Brown et al. 2001) breeds on Wrangel Island and the western Chukotka mainland; the remainder breeds throughout northern Alaska east to Central Canada (Lanctot and Laredo 1994). The majority of Buff-breasted Sandpipers begin their migration southward from their breeding areas in mid-summer (males: mid-June to early-July; females and young: late July to early September). Their route takes them east and then south through the Great Plains and across the Gulf of Mexico to South American where they begin arriving by early September. Smaller portions of the population migrate south along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The Chukotka breeding birds are thought to migrate eastward through Alaska to join the common migration route used by the North American breeding birds. The reverse migration happens in the spring, although birds are more restricted to the central flyway areas of the United States and Canada.


There are few known high concentration sites for this species in the Arctic. In addition, abundance fluctuates dramatically from year-to-year at any one site (Lanctot and Laredo 1994). However, Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found in reliable and fairly good numbers near the Sagavanirktok River near Deadhorse (Lanctot and Weatherhead 1997). Study plots located close by had breeding densities that ranged from 0 to 10 birds/km2 during 1971-1974 (Bergman et al. 1977) and between 0.5-14.0 from 1981 to 1989 (average =- 5.7; Troy and Wickliffe 1990). Moderate densities of birds have also been reported at the Ikpikpuk and Canning rivers (Garner and Reynolds 1986, R. Lanctot, unpubl).

Spring and fall migration

There are no known post-breeding concentration sites for this species in the Arctic. However, the species is known to aggregate at specific sites in Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas during both spring and fall migration.

No. of samples: We plan to obtain 200 samples.
Sampling locations: Breeding birds will primarily be sampled on the North Slope at established camps at Prudhoe Bay. Smaller numbers will be sampled at other locations such as Barrow, Teshekpuk Lake, and the Canning River. Secondary, spring and fall migrants will be sampled in the Central United States, including the Rainwater Basin in Nebraska, and the Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWRs in Kansas.
Sampling timeframe: Breeding birds will be sampled during June and early July; spring migrants will be sampled during April and May, and fall migrants will be sampled in August through September.
Sample demographics: Adults will be sampled during spring migration and breeding, and adults and juveniles will be sampled during fall migration. Methods of capture: Birds breeding on the North Slope will be live-trapped on nests using walk-in and bow traps, and with mist nets at lek locations. Spring and fall migrants in the Central United States will be live-trapped using walk-in traps, mist nets, and/or rocket nets. Fecal sampling will occur at lek locations where adult males establish territories, and at migration sites where birds stage are observed feeding.
Ability to capture birds: Breeding locations: As part of an intensive Buff-breasted Sandpiper study at Prudhoe Bay, 224 adults were captured in 1992-1994 (Lanctot and Weatherhead 1997). We anticipate that we could capture about 70 adults at this one site in 2006, and gather another 50-100 fecal samples. Biologists at other breeding sites are likely to be able to capture another 30 birds and fecal sample 40-80 more. Spring and fall migration: No effort has been made to capture migratory Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the past. The goal of the ecotoxicology study is to sample 80 birds at the migration sites (B. Sandercock, unpubl.).
Other targeted species: At the proposed primary breeding sites it will be possible to sample small to moderate numbers of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Pectoral Sandpipers.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Management
Contact: Richard Lanctot

Yukon Delta NWR
Contact: Brian McCaffery
Bergman, R.D., R.L. Howard, K.F. Abraham, and M.W. Weller. 1977. Waterbirds and their wetland resources in relation to oil development at Storkersen Point, Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Research Publication 129. Washington, D.C.

Brown, S., C. Hickey, B. Harrington, and R. Gill, eds. 2001. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, 2nd ed. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Manomet, MA.

Garner, G.W. and P.E. Reynolds. 1986. Final report baseline study of the fish, wildlife, and their habitats. U.S. Dept of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, Alaska

Johnson, J.A., R.B. Lanctot, B.A. Andres, J.R. Bart, S.C. Brown, S.J. Kendall, and D.C. Payer. In review. Distribution of breeding shorebirds on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. Arctic.

Lanctot, R.B. and C.D. Laredo. 1994. Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis). In The Birds of North America, No. 91 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’ Union.

Lanctot, R.B. and P.J. Weatherhead. 1997. Ephemeral lekking behavior in the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis. Behavioral Ecology 8:268-278.

Troy, D.M. and J.K. Wickliffe. 1990. Trends in bird use of the Pt. McIntyre Reference Area 1981-1989.Unpubl. report by Troy Ecological Research Associates for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan. 2006. Final Draft: An early detection system for Asian H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild migratory birds.

Distribution map of Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Ranking Score: 10.0

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Small portion of population nests Wrangel Is & Chukotka then returns to nonbreeding area in southern S. America
No known use of AI-infected areas
Variable but generally dry upland tundra
~3,000 including ~1,000 from Chukotka/Wrangel Is, stopping on southward migration
Could be difficult to obtain target number
Image of Buff-breasted Sandpiper, photo by C. Ely