Named by Elliott Coues in 1861 for his mentor Spencer Fullerton Baird, the second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, this species was one of the last sandpipers described in North America. Baird's Sandpiper breeds over a broad expanse of high-arctic North America and in parts of Russia, wintering from the Andes of Ecuador to the lowlands of Tierra del Fuego. Its migration is long but rapid. After departing high-arctic breeding grounds and staging in southern Canada and the northern United States, most individuals travel 6,000 kilometers or more directly to northern South America, some going on as far as Tierra del Fuego and many completing the entire 15,000-kilometer journey in as few as 5 weeks.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of this species is that it makes one of the largest investments in egg production known in birds. In a stunning feat of energy conversion, the female lays a clutch that is up to 120% of her body mass in 4 days, shortly after arriving in the Arctic, with essentially no stored fat. The energetics of this accomplishment remain unstudied.
Studies of Baird's Sandpiper are limited in number; a few key works provide most of our knowledge of its natural history. Notable among these are studies of breeding biology on Bylot Island, Nunavut ( Drury 1961c ), and southeastern Victoria Island, Nunavut ( Parmelee et al. 1967 ); nest-defense behavior at Sarcpa Lake, Nunavut ( Reid and Montgomerie 1985 ); foraging ecology ( Holmes and Pitelka 1968 ) and incubation scheduling ( Norton 1972 ) at Barrow, Alaska; vocalizations in northeastern Alaska ( Miller et al. 1988a ); and fall migration, using museum specimens ( Jehl 1979a ). The unpublished data and observa-tions by RM in this species account were collected during 13 breeding seasons (June–July 1981–1993) of research at Sarcpa Lake (68°33'N, 83°19'W) and to a lesser extent at Igloolik, Nunavut (1984, 1985, 1989–1994), and Hall Beach, Nunavut, and Point Barrow (1993).