Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Buff-breasted Sandpiper - Calidris subruficollis
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General Comments The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is one of our most beautiful shorebirds, and its dove-like appearance sets it apart from most other species, justifying its presence in a monotypic genus (Tryngites). Unfortunately, in 2013, the AOU moved the species into the genus Calidris, which contains all of the "peep" sandpipers, as well as other small to medium-sized sandpipers. It is a long-distance migrant from its wintering grounds in the southern part of South America to its Arctic breeding grounds. Unlike a few others with separate spring and fall migratory routes, such as the Hudsonian Godwit and American Golden-Plover, the Buff-breasted simply does not stray eastward off its mid-continent northbound flight, though one would have assumed there would be at least one spring record for North Carolina by now; thankfully, its southbound flight does include North Carolina. This was a very rare bird in the state prior to about 1970, but numbers of records have increased greatly in the past few decades, though numbers seem to have leveled off since 2000. It has somewhat specific habitat requirements here, favoring very short grass at the upper (drier) portions of mudflats, extensive lawns, turf farms, and other short grass situations. It is seldom seen feeding in shallow water.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Transient, only in fall. Very uncommon to occasionally uncommon on the Outer Banks, but generally rare elsewhere along the coast. Tidewater and farther inland -- generally rare (to locally uncommon) though somewhat regular. Mostly mid-Aug to early Oct, sparingly to the end of Oct; no Nov records. Peak counts: 36, sod farm near Creswell (Washington), 18 Sep 2007; 28, in the same area, 4 Sep 2016; 23, in this same area, 9 Sep 2012; 16, Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, 2 Sep 1973; 14, near Creswell, 12 Sep 2009.
Piedmont Transient, only in fall. Rare to occasionally very uncommon (such as at extensive mudflats), scattered over most of the province. Mainly late Aug to the end of Sep, sparingly from 27 Jul to 18 Oct. Peak counts: 32, Falls Lake, 6 Sep 2007; 10, Falls Lake, early Sep 1998; 7 on two dates.
Mountains Transient, only in fall. Rare but seemingly regular since 1996, in the Henderson/Transylvania area only, perhaps annual in recent years. Mainly late Aug to late Sep. Peak counts: 22, Hooper Lane, fall 1992 (unspecific date for the peak); 14, Hooper Lane, 29 Aug 2012; 13, in this same area, 2 Sep 2016; 12, same area, 19 Sep 1999. It is likely that these records since that date are simply a matter of intensive coverage in the Hooper Lane area by a few observers, rather than a statement about geographic pattern or long-term population trend.
Finding Tips There are no consistent spots in fall to see the species. The turf farm just west of Creswell (Washington) has had birds in recent years, and a turf farm is likely less dependent on rainfall than reservoirs farther inland (where shorebirds of all species are not to be seen if shorelines are absent). Pea Island and Cape Hatteras Point can be decent in fall, but partially because these areas are heavily birded. The fields along Hooper Lane in Henderson have been reliable in recent falls.
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Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2017-08-24], LeGrand[2013-08-14]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Calidris subruficollis