I can recall one of the first days I spend on the mixed grass prairies of the Dakotas. I was out in the middle of a roadless tract of about six thousand acres. I was pretty sure I was alone out there when I heard what sounded like a wolf whistle. First off, I don’t get whistled at, and secondly, I was virtually certain I was alone. Then I heard the whistle again: No one in sight.
Perhaps like you, that was my introduction to the song of the upland sandpiper. Unlike other sandpipers which, as the name implies are typically found around bodies of water, the upland sandpiper is a bird of upland prairie and other types of grasslands.
They have the definite look of a sandpiper or plover, are mottled brown and white with some black, and have prominent yellow legs. Even if you are not familiar with this bird, I would bet most everyone has seen the bird perched on a wooden fence post on the mixed grass prairies of our region. They seem to have an affinity for these bully pulpits to declare their presence.
Times were tough for upland sandpipers during the time of the market hunters in the 1800′s and into the 1900′s. Many birds, what we now recognize as game birds as well as non game birds, were slaughtered for eastern markets. You may have heard reference to “plover on toast.” Upland sandpipers are also called upland plovers. I don’t know if it was the species of choice on that toast, but their populations certainly took a hit (no pun intended). Although no longer table fare, loss of habitat, both here on the North American prairies as well as the grasslands or pampas of Brazil and Argentina are now areas of concern for the species.
Below is a great photograph by Rick Bohn of an upland sandpiper. Click here to learn more about upland sandpipers and hear a recording of their call:
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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