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Move Over for Migrants: Shorebirds

Move Over for Migrants

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Kara Moody graduated from Antioch University with a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology. She currently works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, where she is continuing to study the effects of human disturbance on migratory shorebirds.

Project assistance was provided by The Trustees of Reservations and Franz Ingelfinger, former Northeast Regional Ecologist for The Trustees of Reservations. Funding for this study was provided by The Trustees of Reservations and through a grant from the William P. Wharton Trust.

This article originally appeared in Mass Wildife.

 

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Shorebirds are a group of birds with long bills, legs, and toes that include plovers, sandpipers, avocets, oystercatchers, and stilts. The research at Crane Beach focused on three species of shorebirds: Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), and Sanderlings (Calidris alba). These birds were selected as focal species because they are the most abundant shorebirds observed on Crane Beach.

Shorebirds generally inhabit beaches, grasslands, wetlands, and tundra habitats. They lay a maximum of four eggs per season, which results in relatively few offspring each year. Many species of shorebirds have recognizable populations that breed in discrete areas and migrate to different wintering grounds. Shorebirds complete some of the longest migrations known, ranging up to 10,000 miles from the Arctic to southern South America. Many species execute their migration through a series of long-distance flights between critical staging areas located along migration routes. Shorebirds may aggregate at staging sites in groups ranging from dozens to thousands of individuals.

Staging areas provide important foraging habitat and resting sites for shorebirds. Birds feed intensively at staging sites, practically doubling their weight during their 10-14 day layover before taking flight to their next staging area, which is often thousands of miles away. In Massachusetts, shorebirds are migrating southward during the height of the summer outdoor recreation season.  In estuaries, feeding shorebirds are widely distributed over broad tidal flats. However, when foraging areas become inundated by the tide, shorebirds congregate at high tide roosts to rest and wait out the tide. Whereas foraging areas are broadly distributed and shorebirds have alternatives if disturbed, the requirements of roosts are quite specific, and at most staging areas there are only a few suitable options. It is therefore common to see dense roosting flocks during high tidal periods. Disturbance at these sites can take a significant energetic toll on the birds.

Unfortunately, many shorebird species, such as Red Knots, Black-bellied Plovers, and Sanderlings, are in serious decline, and some species are projected to go extinct within our lifetimes. Red Knots are a candidate for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Threats are numerous, including habitat loss or alteration, climate change, disease, increases in predator populations, and changes in food supplies. Several species of shorebirds depend on coastal habitats for breeding, migration, or wintering. With the rapid rate of coastal development, many shorebird populations have suffered from significant habitat degradation.

Shorebirds are particularly vulnerable during migration when populations are concentrated at a few critical staging areas. Some important areas in Massachusetts include Monomoy and South Beach in Chatham, the North Shore’s Great Marsh, and the coastal embayment around Plymouth and Duxbury Beach. Habitat alterations that reduce the suitability at any one site have the potential to fragment the entire migratory chain – essentially creating a weak link along a population’s migration route.

Human Disturbance and Impacts >>

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Kara Moody graduated from Antioch University with a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology. She currently works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, where she is continuing to study the effects of human disturbance on migratory shorebirds.

Project assistance was provided by The Trustees of Reservations and Franz Ingelfinger, former Northeast Regional Ecologist for The Trustees of Reservations. Funding for this study was provided by The Trustees of Reservations and through a grant from the William P. Wharton Trust.

This article originally appeared in Mass Wildife.

 

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