Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Perils for Shorebirds

Mongabay has an interesting interview with Sarah Lehnen, a shorebird ecologist on the troubles facing migratory shorebirds (and migratory birds in general).
But what makes the conservation of migrating shorebirds particularly difficult is that they don't heed human-created international boundaries.

"One of the species I’ve worked with most, the pectoral sandpiper, breeds in the arctic of Canada and spends its non-breeding season in Argentina so there are a lot of jurisdictions crossed in a given year with a gauntlet of obstacles to overcome," Lehnen says, who has studied the pectoral sandpiper in the Mississippi River alluvial valley.

According to Lehnen, conservation initiatives to truly need to involve the cooperation of each country the bird stops in. To complicate problems even more, every country has different issues to tackle in order to protect birds.

"In the U.S., approximately 50 percent of natural wetlands have been filled or drained and the U.S. continues to lose 24,000 acres (about 35 square miles) of natural wetlands per year. During fall migration, hunters in Barbados use semi-automatic weapons to hunt shorebirds as they move through, with as many as 30-45,000 shorebirds shot each year. In Argentina, solid waste dumped on beaches near Rio Grande and oil exploration using explosive charges in San Sebastian Bay threaten to destroy principal wintering habitat for shorebirds," Lehnen says illustrating just how complex conserving migratory birds has become.

Due to this complexity, ornithologists at times have difficulty determining which issues are most important in order to aid a particular, or many, migrating bird species. Changes in migration patterns also make it difficult to know whether a population is, in fact, declining or simply holding steady.

"Fewer birds being observed at a migratory stopover site could be caused by a population decline of that species or by birds shortening the length of time they spend at that site, or by birds shifting to different sites," Lehnen says.
Go read.