U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

September 1993


Published in Conservation Biology Volume 7, No. 3, September 1993. Copyright 1993. Permission to use.


Shorebirds represent a highly diverse group of species, many of which experience tremendous energy demands associated with long-distance migratory flights. Transcontinental migrants are dependent upon dynamic freshwater wetlands for stopover resources essential for replenishment of lipid reserves and completion of migration. Patterns of shorebird migration across midcontinental wetlands were detected from migration reports to American Birds and information provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges. Patterns in species composition and abundance varied geographically, emphasizing the uniqueness of different regions to migrating shorebirds. Smaller species and neotropical migrants moved primarily across the Great Plains, whereas larger species and North American migrants predominated in assemblages in the intermountain west. Shorebirds were broadly dispersed in wetland habitats with dynamic water regimes. Whereas populations of shorebirds in coastal systems appear to concentrate at sites of seasonally predictable and abundant food resources, we propose that transcontinental shorebirds disperse and use wetlands opportunistically. This migration system exemplifies the need for large-scale, coordinated regional management efforts that recognize the dynamic nature of ecosystem processes.