Ranges from 27.9 to 32.5 cm in size and is the most terrestrial of North American shorebirds. The sexes are outwardly alike; females average slightly larger than males (Forbush 1925, Prater et al. 1977). Breeding adults are overall scaly-brown in appearance above with a long slender neck, small rounded head, and relatively long tail. The upper neck is buff-streaked brown with sharply defined V-shaped markings becoming more barred on the lower breast and flanks. The throat and abdomen are white. The eye is large with a dark iris. The bill is short, slightly decurved and dusky at the tip. The tail feathers are barred, dark brown with outer tertials pale orange-brown basally, tipped with white. Legs and feet are yellow-grey (Forbush 1925, Roberts 1955, Prater et al. 1977). Adults captured at the nest may be sexed by wing chord and tail length. This method of sex determination is estimated to be 88.3% accurate for mated pairs (Peterson 1983). Downy young are a fine, mixed pattern of black, white and buff yellowish-brown above. A black stripe runs from the base of the bill over the top of the head. There is a band of buff or yellowish-brown across the upper breast. The sides of the head, chin and underparts are generally white (Forbush 1925). Juveniles resemble adults, but the upperparts are darker and scalier with the buffy color of the neck, breast and wings much deeper and the streaks of the foreneck and breast less distinct. The wing coverts have clear buffy edges and dark submarginal lines. The scapulars are uniformly dark with narrow, defined buff-white fringes. The tail feathers are notched with pale buff. Following the first prenuptial molt the young become indistinguishable from adults (Forbush 1925, Hayman et al. 1986). Winter plumage is similar to that of the breeding adult, but paler (Forbush 1925).
VOCALIZATIONS: The unique vocalizations include a rapid, liquid "quip-ip-ip-ip
" series of alarm notes and a penetrating "whip-whee-ee-you windy
" whistle (Johnsgard 1981).
NESTS: The nest is a shallow depression in the ground approximately 10 to 13 cm in diameter and five cm deep, lined with pieces of dry grass (Bent 1929). Nests are usually well hidden, frequently by vegetation that hangs over the nest hiding it from above (Johnsgard 1981). The eggs are cinnamon to pale olive-buff or greenish-white in color, spotted with brown and underlaying spots of ecru or pale grey. Clutch size is normally four eggs, sometimes three, and rarely five (Bent 1929).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
The behavioral habit of momentarily holding wings straight up when alighting (Forbush 1925) and the distinctive calls are diagnostic (Johnsgard 1981).
Western Hemisphere Range
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In general, uses dry grasslands with low to moderate forb cover, low woody cover, moderate grass cover, moderate to high litter cover, and little bare ground (Houston and Bowen 2001).
Prefers shorter vegetation for foraging. Foods taken: 95 to 97% small invertebrates, 3 to 5% weed seeds (Houston and Bowen 2001).
The Upland Sandpiper is an indicator of native prairies, and has been declining in range and abundance. It has not been seen in the Bozeman area since 1908.
Nests on ground; uses both native and cultivated vegetation for nest site. Eggs are oval to subelliptical in shape; color light pinkish cinnamon, pale pinkish buff, pale olive buff, to greenish white, to pale stone. Almost evenly spotted. Clutch size typically 4 eggs (Houston and Bowen 2001). Eggs dates are from May 25 to mid-July. Downy young are reported from June 6 to late July.