Thanks to David Bradley of Birds Canada for submitting this post. David has been extensively involved with the Migratory Shorebird Project from the start. He also serves on the Pacific Birds International Management Board.
Understanding the Drivers of Shorebird Declines–The Migratory Shorebird Project
Shorebirds connect people and places, their migrations define entire flyways, and they are symbols of coastal and interior wetlands, some of the richest and most threatened habitats on Earth. Yet shorebirds are challenging organisms to study and understand as they are seldom in one place for very long. Many breed in remote Boreal and Arctic regions then fly thousands of kilometers to temperate and tropical areas, stopping briefly at just a few spots on the way. Understanding why this group of birds is so sharply declining remains a huge challenge, precisely because shorebirds are so mobile, and some of the best information on them comes from places the birds spend just a few days each year.
Close to a decade ago, a small group of shorebird fanatics including Pacific Birds representatives from Birds Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service gathered in Vancouver, BC, to devise a better way of understanding what is driving changes in shorebird populations along the Pacific coast. The scientific approach was to establish a series of hypotheses to investigate major drivers of shorebird population change: habitat loss, predation, disturbance, pollution, and climate change. The hypothesis framework determined the types of data that we needed to collect, and from there the team had to coordinate sampling effort from British Columbia in the north to Chiloe Island, Chile, in the south.
And so, the Migratory Shorebird Project was born, under the leadership of Point Blue Conservation Science, and underpinned by new funding from the U.S. Forest Service International Programs and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Fortunately, existing citizen science surveys in California, Mexico and Canada all fit the survey design. An intensive program of training and partnerships with the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and some BirdLife Partners expanded the monitoring to 13 nations by 2020. The Migratory Shorebird Project must now be one of the continent’s most extensive citizen science initiatives and is driven by the leadership of over 40 partner organizations and agencies.
A New Paper Lays Out the Process and Early Results
A recently published paper, A monitoring framework for assessing threats to nonbreeding shorebirds on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, focuses on the detail of the scientific approach, hypothesis framework, and initial results from the first three seasons of monitoring (2013-14 to 2016-17), including the sampling design covering about 1,400 count locations across 84 key larger sites for shorebirds. More than a million shorebirds were counted in some years, including greater than 20% of the global populations of five species. We look forward to future publications addressing the specific hypotheses with more seasons of data.
One of the founding principles of the Migratory Shorebird Project is to build a network of practitioners and advocates capable of guiding large-scale and lasting conservation actions from local to hemispheric scales, through the Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy and other mechanisms. An excellent recent article by WHSRN’s Salvadora Morales explains how the project is proving an important tool for decision-making in Central America. Diana Eusse of Colombia’s Asociación Calidris notes how the Migratory Shorebird Project has filled important gaps in knowledge–especially in Central America–and how it has grown Latin American leadership in citizen science. For Birds Canada and the BC Coastal Waterbird Survey volunteers in particular, the collaboration will help us understand what is behind the long-term declines we are seeing in Dunlin and other shorebirds species in Canada’s Salish Sea.