Ephemeral lekking behavior in the buff-breasted sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis

Richard B. Lanctot, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied male reproductive behavior of the buff-breasted sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis for there years on a 16-km2 study site in northern Alaska to document variation n male lekking behavior and to explore the causes of that variation. During the breeding season, about 75% of males on the study area displayed on leks, with the remainder displaying solitarily. Leks averaged between 2.3 and 3.0 males each (maximum size = 20). Most leks (69%) were present in only one year and about one-tenth were active all three years. Half of the leks were active for only one survey (maximum of 3-4 days) in a given year. Individual male behavior varied substantially, from remaining at a single lek for most of the breeding season or attending multiple leks during the season, to displaying solitarily or displaying both on leks and solitarily. Some males (30% or fewer) displayed near nests during the later part of the breeding season, perhaps attempting to copulate with females during egg-laying. The proportion of males that displayed on leks remained consistently high throughout the breeding season despite changes in the operational sex ratio and in the intensity of male-male competition. However, the absolute number of males (lekking and solitary) in the study area was positively correlated with the number of fertile females during both breeding seasons. We suggest that buff-breasted sandpipers may be unusual among lek-breeding birds in that males have the option of leaving areas when the number of fertile females becomes depressed and flying to new areas where breeding opportunities are still available. Breeding opportunities may be especially variable in the high arctic because of uneven snow accumulation and differential melt-off that can delay breeding by two or more weeks. This interpretation suggests that the mating system of the buff-breasted sandpiper must be viewed at a much larger scale than what has typically been used in mating system studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-278
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternative mating behavior
  • Buff-breasted sandpipers
  • Lek
  • Mating system
  • Shorebird
  • Tactics
  • Tryngites subruficollis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Ephemeral lekking behavior in the buff-breasted sandpiper, Tryngites subruficollis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this