Stopover Decisions of Migratory Shorebirds: An Assessment of Habitat, Food, Behavior and Phenology

The wetlands of the Great Plains are increasingly altered by anthropogenic change, but remain important stopover habitats for a variety of migratory birds, including 37 species of shorebirds. Although shorebirds use highly altered wetlands, the extent to which these habitat decisions represent true preference and are adaptive remains unclear. 

Goals

To identify the influence of anthropogenic change on avian habitat preferences

Current Status

To identify the influence of anthropogenic change on avian habitat preferences, surveys were conducted for migrating shorebirds from April to June of 2010 and 2011 in north–central South Dakota. Our results show that shorebirds prefer highly–altered, agricultural wetlands, which have lower invertebrate (food) abundance than do grassland wetlands. However, by examining migrant behavior, we were able to determine that individuals have a higher foraging rate and search effort at preferred habitats, indicating that foraging efficiency, rather than food availability, is the limiting factor in this system.

We also examined the influence of local phenology on shorebird migration to identify the potential sensitivity of migratory timing to climate change. We found that shorebird migration coincides with invertebrate food resources, indicating that migrants may be sensitive to climate–driven changes in food resource phenology. 

Based on the findings from this initial studey we began to assess how larger landscape attributes affect stopover decision proesses and the corresponding physiological implications. In the springs of 2013 and 2014, Caitlyn Gillespie began monitoring shorebird migratory patterns through the Rainwater Basin of south-central Nebraska as well as the southern Priaire Pothole Region of South Dakota. Her findings suggest that the availabilty and distribution of wetlands in the landscape plays a role in shaping stopover decisions.

Project Website
Shorebirds
Caitlyn Gillespie banding shorebirds in the Rainwater Basin. Photo: Joseph J. Fontaine
Caitlyn Gillespie banding shorebirds in the Rainwater Basin. Photo: Joseph J. Fontaine
Principal Investigator(s)
-Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU
-Susan K. Skagen, USGS Fort Collins Science Center
-Ted LaGrange, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
-Lisa Webb, Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit
-Andy Bishop, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture
Graduate Student(s)
-Ryan Stutzman (M.S. 2012)
- Caitlyn Gillespie, M.S. (2015)
Project Duration
January 2010-October 2016
Funding
-U.S. Geological Survey
- National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center
- Rainwater Basin Joint Venture
-Great Plains Landscape Cooperative
Project Location
Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota