International Shorebird Survey


Program description

Millions of arctic-breeding shorebirds depend upon strategic inland and coastal wetlands in North and South America as places to acquire fat for fueling thousands of miles that remain in their migrations. The ISS is a program of volunteer cooperation established to collect and provide factual information needed for developing well-founded conservation programs for protecting the amazing migration systems of Western Hemisphere shorebirds.

In 1974 Manomet Observatory (MO) organized the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) to collect information on shorebirds during migration. One underlying goal of the ISS was to learn whether shorebirds concentrated to such a degree that loss of key staging areas might seriously affect populations, a premise now verified in early database evaluations. The project continues to collect information so that migration routes, timing, and locations of staging areas can be mapped, and to monitor shorebird population trends. To date more than 600 persons have contributed information from 38 of the United States, and from about 50 sites south of the US. Cooperators are asked to select a site and to census shorebirds once every 10 days at key seasons. The computerized files hold about 100,000 censuses representing about 400 sites with 1 year of coverage, 90 with two, and 100 with 3-10 years. Roughly half of the sites are marine.

Shorebirds are hemispheric globetrotters whose migrations include long-distance, non-stop flights, often exceeding a thousand miles without stop. To complete these extraordinary flights, shorebirds must lay on enormous fuel reserves. In most of the 20 species common to North America, this is done at key migration staging areas, sites which produce extraordinary densities of food. There apparently are few places having the right combination of resources needed by shorebirds for refueling, for in some cases up to 80% of the entire North American population of some of the species may visit a single site (see figure 2). Loss of critical staging areas could well be devastating to hemispheric populations.

Mapping passage zones and important migration staging areas of shorebirds is a high priority conservation need. Because shorebirds are hemispheric globetrotters, mapping passage zones and important migration staging areas requires a large information-gathering network spanning North, Central and South America. Because paying to do this would be prohibitively expensive, MBO organized the International

Shorebird Surveys, a volunteer network, to begin gathering needed information.

The ISS has shown that many kinds of shorebirds are concentrated at key staging areas during migration, that some species are declining precipitously (Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling and Whimbrel), and an associated project has shown that survival rates of some species are perilously low. This has prompted a series of conservation projects, including the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The ISS continues to need volunteer help.

We ask ISS cooperators to census shorebirds at a site selected by the cooperator three times monthly during key migration periods. Less frequently collected data are also welcome, especially from regions where other information is sparse. Many participants report that their involvement has broadened their interest in birds and conservation, and added new dimensions to their natural history interests.

For more information, including forms and project guidelines, contact the ISS, c/o Manomet Observatory, PO Box 1770, Manomet, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 02345 (Tel. 508 224-6521; FAX 508 224-9220).

Go to 1995 ISS Annual Report

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