New towers at Oak Lake to provide key information on shorebirds in Manitoba
Some of Canada’s most amazing travellers pass right through southwest Manitoba, an important area for shorebirds in the prairies.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has installed three wildlife tracking towers near Oak Lake, with an additional tower near Whitewater Lake. Antennae atop the towers collects signals from radio transmitters that have been attached to birds and large insects. When a shorebird with a transmitter flies within 20 kilometres of the tower, information is captured. The data is then downloaded from the towers and shared with other researchers and organizations who are part of the MOTUS wildlife tracking network.
The data from these and other towers across the country and around the world provides key information on which species are travelling through an area, where they came from, what routes they are taking and at what times. This information helps inform which areas are of most importance to these birds along their migration route.
The information is even more relevant and crucial in light of the 2019 State of the Birds report issued June 20 by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It is the first survey done in seven years. The report says that since 1970, Canada has lost 40 to 60 per cent of its shorebird, grassland birds and aerial insectivore populations. Eighty per cent of the country's remaining grassland birds and aerial insectivores have been assessed as threatened or endangered.
Installation of the towers is only one part of a larger project that NCC is conducting in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, Manitoba Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program, the West Souris River Conservation District and Environment and Climate Change Canada to monitor and learn more about shorebird migration, distribution and possible trends in southwest Manitoba.
Volunteers assist with collecting more detailed information by counting birds at key sites, as part of the International Shorebird Survey — a global effort to learn more about these species. This data also helps provide information about specific wetland sites, such as patterns in distribution and abundance.
A significant amount of shorebird research has been done in Canada on both the east and west coasts. Within Manitoba, shorebird research has historically focussed on the Hudson Bay region, with limited information on significant stopover sites in the prairies. The information collected from these towers will help ensure that efforts to conserve shorebirds will be as effective as possible.
Shorebirds are a diverse groups of migratory birds, a few species of which have some of the longest migration distances in the feathered world.
The migratory route that passes through the Prairies is sometimes referred to as the central flyway. A handful of the species that move through Manitoba stay and breed, raising their young before returning south for the winter. Others only stop temporarily for food and rest on their way north or south.
This group of birds is strongly associated with shallow water habitats, such as those found on beaches or shorelines of lakes, shallow wetlands and in flooded fields or grasslands, where they forage for food in the mud and sand.
Whether for breeding or refuelling, Manitoba’s wetlands are incredibly important for these birds on their journeys. But shorebirds are in trouble, and more needs to be done to help them.
Shorebird populations are declining quickly. A 2016 report on the State of North American Birds showed a 70 per cent decline in shorebird populations since the early 1970s. Causes of that decline range from habitat loss in breeding and wintering areas and along migratory pathways; changes in predation pressure; pollution; changes in food availability; changing climate conditions; and being repeatedly disturbed while resting and feeding.
Loss of habitat or stresses to migrating birds during stopovers can have a significant impact. If the birds are not healthy and strong when they reach their breeding site, their ability to successfully raise their young decreases significantly.
How people can help bird populations
Simple, everyday things like cleaning up garbage along wetlands, beaches and shorelines and not allowing your pets to disturb birds while they are resting and foraging can help. Bird enthusiasts should consider submitting data to online resources such eBird so it is available to researchers and conservation organizations.
People interested in volunteering for future shorebird surveys can contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada or the Manitoba IBA Program.
In addition to NCC, the towers and their installation were funded in part by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the West Souris River Conservation District and Higginbotham Electric. Equipment rental for the erection of the towers was donated by Battlefield Equipment Rentals.
“With declining populations, there are only so many places shorebirds have to call home” said Josh Dillabough, natural area coordinator for NCC's Manitoba region. “This is one of the unique areas of Manitoba to help these birds on their long migration. It is our goal that species that call this area home continue to do so for many generations to come.”
To learn more about shorebirds and the work that is being done in Manitoba, read these blogs by the Manitoba IBA:
International Shorebird Survey: https://www.manomet.org/project/international-shorebird-survey/
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast. We have conserved and protected over 26,305 hectares (65,000 acres) across nine natural areas critical to Manitoba’s biodiversity.
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