- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant restricted to northern Minnesota. The Solitary Sandpiper was a very rare species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Solitary Sandpiper is largely a species of boreal Canada. Federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) routes in southern Canada only detected the species in the western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and west-central Saskatchewan (Figure 1). The only known breeding records in the United States are in northern Minnesota and central Oregon.
Ranked as Least Concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan Partnership; assigned a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight.
A long-distance migrant that winters in Central and South America.
Consumes a variety of insects and small crustaceans gathered along the edges of small pools.
Selects old tree and shrub nests constructed by other species, such as the American Robin and the Cedar Waxwing.
Roberts (1932) knew the Solitary Sandpiper as a “common, sometimes an abundant, spring and fall migrant throughout the state.” Its status as a breeding species, however, remained uncertain. Most of the summer records available to Roberts were from July and were classified as early fall migrants instead of breeding birds. Even a few late June records (June 26, 27, and 30) were considered potential fall migrants. In retrospect, repeated observations of a bird at the town of Biwabik, St. Louis County, in June 1908 and observations on June 26 and June 27 in 1922 from the Popular River in Cook County, are of particular note. Both sites are now within the species’ potential breeding range, but it is uncertain if these were breeding birds or migrants. Roberts also included one questionable breeding record from Jackson County in 1901. A pair of birds was observed for several days in early June on a “sparsely wooded island and point in the Des Moines River.” Several days later, four newly hatched young were seen. The observer, Mr. J.C. Knox, was considered careful by Roberts, but the possibility that the birds were actually Spotted Sandpipers seems quite likely, since that species is far more common in southwestern Minnesota.
The first well-documented breeding record was reported in the summer of 1973, more than 40 years after Roberts wrote his treatise on Minnesota birds. While driving along a county road that ran along the Mississippi River in Aitkin County in mid-July, Terry Savaloja stopped to look for a Song Sparrow nest. Instead, he observed a pair of Solitary Sandpipers flying overhead. When they landed along the river’s shoreline, a half-grown downy young appeared alongside them (Savoloja 1973). Then, in 1982, after spotting Solitary Sandpipers at two different wetlands in central Cook County the previous two summers, Ken and Molly Hoffman observed a pair of adults and a short‑tailed chick in an old drained beaver pond on June 30 (Hoffman and Hoffman 1982). Nesting continued to be documented in the area during the summers of 1983, 1984, and 1987 (Green and Janssen 1984; Hendrickson and Eckert 1985; Wilson and Shedd 1988). Both the 1983 and 1984 reports specifically referred to the site used in 1982 (T63NR1W); the 1987 report mentions the Lima Mountain Road which runs through the township.
The Cook County site remained the second breeding confirmation for nearly 30 years, until the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) documented fledged young in southern Lake of the Woods County in 2012. This record was included in the MNBBA, as was one additional confirmed nesting record from 2013. The 2013 observation was from northern St. Louis County, where an adult was seen with a begging juvenile. During the course of the MNBBA, 7 additional Solitary Sandpiper records were validated (4 probable records and 3 possible records), for a total of 9 records.
Each MNBBA record was scrutinized carefully, as well as nine other atlas records that were ultimately invalidated. Because the Solitary Sandpiper is observed throughout Minnesota in June, identifying which records represent late spring migrants, early fall migrants, or possible breeding records was challenging. Spring migrants have been observed in the state as late as early to mid-June and fall migrants as early as late June (Janssen 1987). In light of this information, two primary criteria for accepting Solitary Sandpiper breeding records from atlas volunteers were delineated. First, records during the first week of June were invalidated unless the observer included documentation noting that either a pair or an adult with young was observed. Second, the observations had to be in a suitable habitat in northern Minnesota. This analysis resulted in the validation of the 9 MNBBA records mentioned in the previous paragraph as well as the invalidation of 9 other records (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). All nine validated records were submitted by atlas volunteers or by the MBS. The species was not reported on any of the point counts. As shown in Figure 2, all validated records are from the northern reaches of 4 northern counties: Koochiching, Lake, Lake of the Woods, and St. Louis.
Because the species occupies remote wetlands throughout the boreal forest region, little is known about any historical changes to its breeding distribution over the past century.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.