Shorebirds are one of the groups of species that connect the Sonoran Joint Venture to the rest of the western hemisphere. Some of these migratory powerhouses, like Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Lesser Yellowlegs, fly thousands of miles one-way between their breeding grounds in the Arctic and their wintering grounds in South America. These birds face many challenges along the way. Some of these are directly caused by people, like coastal development. Others are an indirect result of human activity, like habitat loss and degradation caused by climate change.
The Pacific Americas Flyway is a major north-south migratory route for birds, extending from Alaska to southern Chile. Shorebirds are one of the many groups of species that use this route. Unfortunately, major ecosystem alterations, including habitat loss and decreasing food and water availability, have drastically reduced shorebird populations. Researchers have demonstrated long-term declines in 11% of shorebird populations within the Pacific Flyway, including a 45% decrease in shorebirds that nest in the Arctic (but migrate through or winter in the Sonoran Joint Venture region).
Working to address the diverse and complex threats facing shorebirds in the Pacific Americas Flyway is a huge undertaking. Fortunately, we have a new tool to help guide our efforts.
The Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy integrates conservation actions across the full suite of geographical, ecological, and cultural landscapes. Partners from conservation and science organizations, academia, government, and the private sector collaborated to create this important new tool. Guided by a small international steering committee, more than 85 individuals representing 53 unique institutions and 15 different countries participated in the development of the Strategy. Sonoran Joint Venture staff helped facilitate the interactive workshops, and multiple SJV partners were active participants.
Shorebirds are especially vulnerable to habitat change and human disturbance because they tend to go where the people want to go (i.e., the beach on a hot summer day). For example, the San Diego Bay area is a population stronghold for the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus). This sparrow-sized shorebird is listed as a Species of Continental Concern in the Sonoran Joint Venture Bird Conservation Plan.
Historically, biologists and land managers worked to protect birds and their habitats where they occurred locally, like protecting specific nesting zones. We now know that successful conservation means working to reduce threats range-wide. While many Snowy Plovers are year-round residents in the San Diego Bay, the Pacific population occurs as far north as Damon Point, Washington and as far south as Bahia Magdalena, a large coastal bay in Baja California, Mexico. In order to increase Snowy Plover populations and availability of nesting, foraging, and wintering habitat, scientists, conservationists, and managers need to work together. Researchers in the United States, for instance, must consider not only the threats at breeding locations, but the threats faced by the birds wintering in Mexico. Likewise, Mexican biologists must consider how threats such as habitat modification of breeding areas further north may affect populations in Mexico.
While we can’t all work everywhere, ensuring that our efforts are coordinated and connected can help everyone’s work be more effective. The Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy provides a framework to do just that. The Strategy lists the main threats facing shorebird populations along the Flyway. It also identifies effective strategies and actions for partners to address these threats in the context of the existing framework of laws, institutions and funding in the Flyway. Finally, it includes a series of “next steps” to aid in implementing shorebird conservation across the entire Flyway. The Strategy helps people across geographies ensure that their efforts are working toward the same end goals: conservation of shorebirds and their habitats throughout the Pacific Flyway.
Visit the National Audubon Society or https://www.shorebirdplan.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Pacific-Americas-Strategy-2016.pdf to read the entire plan and learn more about how you can participate in this vital effort.