By Brad Winn, Director Shorebird Habitat Management
With wings flashing in the late-night Arctic sun, male Buff-breasted Sandpipers attempt to attract passing females by waving at them as they fly by. Sometimes one wing is raised high, turning slightly side to side like the cupped hand of Miss America in a parade. Sometimes two wings reach for the sky, framing the male in his own feathered cape and self-grandeur. When female “Buffies” really ignore their suitors, males put on the full show by throwing themselves into the air like spinning feather dusters. These competitive displays, like most shorebird courtships in northern Canada and Alaska, are intense and spectacular to see. They are choreographed, species-specific, art forms that are meant to intimidate competitors and woo potential mates. The songs and aerial shows of shorebirds, including the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, are performed for only about ten days each year in these remote, treeless lands.
Male Buff-breasted Sandpipers attempt to attract a mate. Photos by Brad Winn
As vitally important as the breeding season is, lasting into July and early August, Arctic-nesting shorebirds spend the majority of each year way to the south in U.S. southern states, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. For the dedicated people and organizations committed to recovering depleted shorebird populations, including the staff and supporters at Manomet, understanding and addressing the threats these shorebirds encounter throughout migration is critical.
Many shorebird populations have been declining, or are perilously low already, including Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Red Knot, Whimbrel, and Semipalmated Sandpiper. Creating strategies to alleviate major threats is an absolute necessity if collapsing populations are to be stabilized and fortified. Threats as universal as habitat loss, or as specific as unregulated hunting on individual Caribbean islands, all need to be addressed under a coordinated campaign to turn shorebird population declines around. This “full life-cycle” conservation approach has inspired the development of the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative (AFSI). Now in its third year, AFSI is showing results through the implementation of projects from northern Canada to the Southern Cone of South America.
Of all of the countries in South America, Brazil sits solidly like a big anchor on the Atlantic Flyway. The country is immense, covering nearly fifty percent of the continent. Brazil’s coast is one of the longest in the world, stretching more than 4,655 miles, or one quarter of the entire coast of South America. The diverse wetland and grassland habitats of Brazil are vital for shorebirds. Unfortunately, threats to shorebirds in Brazil are creating mounting stewardship challenges, rivalling the level of threats to shorebirds in the United States.
Brazil has recently created a National Shorebird Conservation Action Plan, one of the first for any South American country. The goals of this plan include strategies to address the biggest threats in order to maintain and protect the country’s 38 species of shorebirds. The Brazilian document highlights the Brazilian local breeders as well as the long-distance migrants that leave Brazil annually to nest in North America. This plan aligns well with the goals and conservation strategies of AFSI, opening the door of opportunity for collaborative habitat management projects, establishing International Shorebird Surveys (ISS) to monitor changes in populations, and cross-border data sharing with all flyway partners. All with the target outcome of helping to stabilize shorebird numbers in the flyway.
Staff from Manomet’s Habitats for Shorebirds project and the Director of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Executive Office will travel to Brazil at the end of February to meet with government officials and conduct two shorebird ecology, management, and conservation workshops. Our Brazilian partners who have joined us in this effort include the non-profit organizations SAVE Brasil (Association for the Conservation of Brazilian Birds), Aquasis (Association for Research and Preservation of Aquatic Ecosystems), and the government agency, National Center for Bird Conservation (CEMAVE). We will meet with officials in the capital Brasilia and conduct the workshops at two separate locations, one on the north coast in the state of Ceara, and one south in the state of Rio Grande do Sul at a WHSRN site of International Importance.
We anticipate many positive outcomes of our visit to Brazil. The engagement with government authorities will allow us to highlight the importance of the country for the successful implementation of the Atlantic Flyway Initiative. The workshops will allow us to find and engage land managers who then will apply new knowledge and management protocols to benefit shorebirds on their National Park lands. Establishing mutually beneficial approaches to management will provide the long-term stability of shorebird populations, shared across so many borders and cultures in the entire flyway. Together, we will work to do all we can to ensure that shorebirds, like the male Buff-breasted Sandpipers on their Arctic stage, will be waving at the ladies well into the distant future.