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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Wetland Symposium

Migrating Shorebirds and Habitat Dynamics in Prairie Wetlands


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Ecology Research Center, Fort Collins, CO 80525

Several species of arctic-breeding shorebirds cross North America semiannually enroute to and from Central and South American wintering areas. Long distance migrants cannot make the journey without periodically replenishing fat reserves. Stopover sites become critical to the survival of many of these species.

Great Plains wetlands are extremely dynamic, and the presence of stopover resources during migration are highly unpredictable. Shorebirds are opportunistic in habitat-use patterns and are able to track suitable resources within local wetland complexes. When local conditions are unfavorable, however, birds may be constrained in their abilities to find timely resources, especially if fat reserves are insufficient. To ensure resource alternatives when local conditions are unfavorable for migrating birds, extensive complexes of potential habitat must be maintained. Development of a regional approach to providing sufficient stopover resources for migrating shorebirds is highly challenging. Such an approach might include a communication network that would facilitate efforts to track wetland conditions and guide active water management on a regional scale.

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