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The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a medium-sized sandpiper. Its head appears small relative to its body, and it has a short black bill and bright yellow-ochre (green-brown) or yellow-orange legs. Its neck appears long because of its small head and upright posture. It has a "buff" (pale peach or yellowy-tan) coloured breast and a mottled, dark brown and buff back that looks "scaly" because of the strong tone variation between these two colours.

Weight: 46 to 78 g (1.6 to 2.8 oz). Length: 18 to 20 cm (7.1 to 7.8 in).

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The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a shorebird that breeds in the central Canadian Arctic, including Banks Island and western Victoria Island in the NWT. It winters in the pampas (grassland plains) of South America. 

Range map information

Buff-breasted Sandpiper habitat use varies throughout the breeding season on the tundra. Breeding displays usually start on dry, unvegetated, snow-free areas and move to moister grass and sedge meadows as the season progresses. Nests are typically in sedge patches near dry display areas and close to water sources, or in wetlands near large waterbodies or rivers. Foraging is usually on sparsely vegetated areas, especially along the banks of streams and rivers.

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a polygamous species. This means one male courts and breeds with several females. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is the only North American shorebird with a lek mating system. A lek is when several males gather to perform competitive displays that entice females to come watch and check out potential mates.  

While most male shorebirds stop displaying once nests are established and the breeding season progresses, Buff-breasted Sandpiper males display to females already on established nests and even while on migration.

Historically, there were many Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but extensive market hunting in the early 1900s caused a drastic decrease in population size. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper currently has a relatively small population size (compared to other species of shorebirds in the Arctic) and is suspected to be in further population decline because of changes to its migration stopover sites (from native grassland to agricultural land).

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include breeding habitat degradation from climate change and industrial development, as well as direct disturbance at nest sites from resource exploration and development.

COSEWIC assessed Buff-breasted Sandpiper as Special Concern in 2012 because of population decline and threats. Buff-breasted Sandpiper was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2017.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers and their nests are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

A national management plan for Buff-breasted Sandpiper is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.