Shorebird populations declining
Nature Conservancy of Canada, partners and volunteers conducting surveys to learn more
Since late July, some of Canada’s most amazing travellers will have started their fall migration. Shorebirds are a diverse groups of migratory birds, a few species of which have some of the longest migration distances in the feathered world. But they are in trouble and more needs to be done to help them. The good news is that a number of local, national and international organizations are working together to learn how best to conserve them here in Manitoba.
Shorebirds come in various shapes and sizes, but this group of birds is strongly associated with shallow water habitats 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. 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 will 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. Whether for breeding or refuelling, Manitoba’s wetlands are incredibly important for these birds on their journeys.
This group of birds is declining quickly. A 2016 report on the state of the North American birds indicated 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 birds during stopovers can have a significant impact on migrating birds. If the birds are not healthy and strong when they reach their breeding site, their ability to successfully raise their young falls significantly.
We need to learn more about shorebirds in Manitoba and other parts of the Central Flyway. How many are there? Where do they go? Which areas are the most important for them? Manitoba has a storied history of shorebird research in the Hudson Bay lowlands, but information on significant stopover sites in the midcontinent is more limited. Answering these questions will help ensure that efforts to conserve them will be as effective as possible. While a significant amount of work has been done on shorebirds in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and more recently the west coast, there is lessdata in the prairie regions.
Over a year ago, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) began discussions with partner organizations in both Canada and the U.S. to establish a monitoring system as part of the International Shorebird Survey (ISS). This spring, NCC, Manomet, the Manitoba Important Bird Areas Program (IBA), Bird Studies Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada led an effort to establish a monitoring program in Manitoba. Over the past months, NCC and partners have identified sites to be surveyed and protocols for long-term surveying in ephemeral wetlands, complementing work by the IBA program and numerous volunteers.
Survey data collected using ISS methods are used to calculate shorebird population trends, examine the distribution of shorebirds, the routes they use during migration and the locations of the most important stopover sites. Key information about shorebird conservation was shared at a spring workshop held near Oak Lake. Participants were trained in shorebird identification and survey methods. These methods are currently being piloted in southwestern Manitoba. If successful, the program will eventually expand to other parts of the province and the prairies.
In late July, staff from Bird Studies Canada and the Manitoba Important Bird Area Program trained staff from NCC and volunteers from the IBA Program on Manitoba’s first shorebird surveys at Whitewater Lake near Deloraine, and Oak Lake.
What you can do
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. If you are a birding enthusiast, consider submitting your data to databases such as eBird so it is available to researchers and conservation organizations. Donating to non-profit organizations working on shorebird conservation is also great way to contribute.
If you are interested in volunteering for future shorebird surveys, contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada or the Manitoba IBA Program.
To learn more about shorebirds and the work that is being done in Manitoba, check out these blogs by the Manitoba IBA:
And this link to the International Shorebird Survey:
The Nature Conservancy of Canada is Canada'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. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.
The shorebird workshop was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP), a unique public-private partnership led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Manomet, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
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