Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Contribute?
 

What are Migratory Shorebirds?
 

What is the work of WHSRN?
 

Why was WHSRN launched?
 

What are the key challenges of conserving shorebirds?
 

How serious is the threat to shorebirds?
 

What is the WHSRN strategy for conserving shorebirds?
 

How does WHSRN work?
 

Why are shorebird populations in decline?
 

How many species are there in the Western Hemisphere?
 

What makes some species so vulnerable?
 

What keeps migratory shorebirds on the move?
 

How far do shorebirds migrate?
 

What groups form the backbone of the WHSRN Network?
 

How many sites and countries participate in the network?
 

Who are site landowners and what are their responsibilities?
 

What are the requirements for sites to be nominated for the WHSRN network?
 

How big is recreational bird-watching?
 

How can I support the work of WHSRN?
 

Can we apply to WHSRN for funding for a shorebird project?
 

How can corporations support WHSRN?


How Can I Contribute?

Financial contributions supporting this important work are most welcome and can be made through Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Individuals wishing to be involved at an existing WHSRN site are urged to visit its web page or contact the appropriate person listed at one of our site descriptions.


What are Migratory Shorebirds?

Not all birds at the shore are shorebirds! Shorebirds, called “waders” outside of North America, are a biologically distinct group of birds generally with long legs, pointed wings and long bills. Shorebirds occur at the shores of oceans and lakes, in grasslands and marshes, and even in dry uplands. They are members of the order Charadriiformes, excluding the more marine web-footed seabird groups, Stercorariidae, Laridae, Rynchopidae. This leaves the Jacanidae, Rostratulidae, Haematopodidae, Recurvirostridae, Burhinidae, Charadriidae, Pluvianellidae, Scolopacidae, Thinocoridae and Chionidae families with about 210 species.


What is the work of WHSRN?

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN, pronounced WHISS-ern) is dedicated to conserving shorebird species and their habitats across the Americas through a network of key sites. The voluntary, non-regulatory coalition identifies and promotes conservation of crucial sites used by for shorebirds during their breeding, migratory and “winter” season. The Executive Office operates through the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences based in Manomet, Massachusetts, USA.


Why was WHSRN launched?

WHSRN was established in 1985 as North American biologists became increasingly aware of the critical role of migratory staging and stopover sites for shorebirds along their migratory flyways. These are the en route places where shorebirds gain the fuel needed for migration and where significant numbers spend the non-breeding season. After scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service first proposed the idea for an international “series of protected areas linking key sites” for shorebirds in 1982, WHSRN was created to identify these areas and promote their conservation through a hemispheric network of sites.


What are the key challenges of conserving shorebirds?

There are two challenges: protecting shorebird species and protecting their habitats. Natural threats pose serious challenges to migrating shorebirds. While they have contended with these threats for millions of years and adapted, the human capacity to rapidly alter the environment and upset eons of ecological balance is perhaps the most serious threat to shorebirds today.


How serious is the threat to shorebirds?

Quantifying the impact of habitat loss on shorebird populations is impossible, because there are no census data for shorebirds from 150 years ago when the landscape was still intact. Indications are that shorebird populations have suffered extensively from the market hunting in the 1800s and since then wholesale human alteration of the landscape in many places.

Today, conservation action is urgently required amid continued widespread declines in shorebird populations. For example, if current population trends continue, it is estimated that some birds such as the New World race of Red Knots will become extinct within our lifetimes. For the shorebird species on the east coast of North America where there are sufficient data to be reliable, nine are declining and none are increasing. 


What is the WHSRN strategy for conserving shorebirds?

WHSRN's conservation strategy is two-fold. First, shorebird conservation requires site-based action at a grand, indeed, hemispheric, scale. Second, the power of WHSRN is the power of cooperation: to be able to accomplish goals as an interconnected group of places and groups that could not be accomplished by the sum of the separate efforts of these people and organizations. 


How does WHSRN work?

The WHSRN Hemispheric Council is the body ultimately responsible for the entire Network and matters affecting the WHSRN program as a whole. Geographically dispersed International Councils, and in many cases, National Councils, design and implement pertinent activities that contribute to the achievemant of the Network's mission. Communication among the several components and levels of WHSRN's structure is a shared responsibility of all participants. 


Why are shorebird populations in decline?

Clearly, the biggest threat to shorebirds are people and the ongoing battle between nature and mankind. Most menacing is the collective sprawl of humanity and its degradation of wild habitat. In the U.S., about 50% of natural wetlands have been filled or drained. Further, the U.S. continues to lose 24,000 acres (about 35 square miles) of natural wetlands per year to draining and filling.

Several species of shorebirds compete for one of our most popular recreational spaces - beaches. With people come dogs, which love to make sport chasing shorebirds. So instead of being able to feed and fuel up for the next leg of the migration, shorebirds spend a lot of time avoiding people, cars, and pets, expending energy they should be saving for their migratory flights. It’s estimated that one-third of shorebirds leave New England at below threshold weight. Survival of these birds is correspondingly lower than birds departing at optimal weight. This mortality often occurs over the ocean, unseen. Although human encroachment on the shorebird’s ecosystems is severe in the Continental U.S., it is a truly global problem: the beaches of Brazil and Argentina are packed with people too. 


How many species are there in the Western Hemisphere?

There are 88 shorebird species breeding in the Western Hemisphere, and another eleven classified as non-breeding visitors.

Of these, 52 occur in North America, and over one-third are in decline. At least seven are highly imperiled including: Snowy, Piping, and Mountain plovers, Red Knot, Long-billed Curlew and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Another 22 species are conservation priorities: American Golden-Plover,Wilson's Plover, American Oystercatcher, Black Oystercatcher, Solitary Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper,Whimbrel, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Rock Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, American Woodcock, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope.

Much less is known about the South and Central American shorebird species that do not breed in North America, often called the Neotropical shorebirds. In fact, they are one of the least well-known groups of shorebirds in the world. WHSRN and partners in South America are committed to helping resolve this problem through research and conservation action. 


What makes some species so vulnerable?

Species like Red Knots and Dunlin that concentrate in large numbers in a single area are obviously vulnerable. Loss of a critical staging area could mean the destruction of a whole flyway population of shorebirds. Example: The 30,000 Red Knots feeding on horseshoe crab eggs in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware Bay, are highly vulnerable to human alteration of this resource, or even a catastrophic storm. 


What keeps migratory shorebirds on the move?

Weather, breeding and food. Shorebirds, as a group, are extraordinarily migratory and frequently highly concentrated at a relatively small number of places. Shorebirds’ remarkable hemispheric wanderings coincide with the occurrence of a predictably abundant food supply at their migratory stopover and destination points along the globe. Some shorebirds live their lives in endless summer. June on their arctic breeding grounds offers many hours of daily sun. When it turns cold in North America, the birds seek habitats in extreme southern latitudes where it’s summer again. Having double the daylight hours of North America gives shorebirds that much more time to feed and store energy. Food is the constant, driving motivation: for hemispheric migrants, departure time for the next journey is never far off. 


How far do shorebirds migrate?

Shorebird migrations are the endurance marathons of the natural world. For species that breed in the Arctic and winter at the southern tip of South America – Red Knots, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Hudsonian Godwits – annual migrations span 20,000 miles a year. Red Knots fly every spring from Brazil to Delaware Bay non-stop before continuing on to their breeding grounds in the remote Arctic. By its 13th birthday, a Red Knot will have flown a distance equal to the moon and back. The migration champion may be the Bar-tailed Godwit, which leaves its breeding grounds in Alaska and flies over 7,150 miles non-stop to “winter” in New Zealand, a flight that may require 100 straight hours in the air. No human athlete can match that amount of exercise without food or water! 


What groups form the backbone of the WHSRN Network?

While the sites are the backbone of WHSRN, three groups are the primary implementers of the Network's mission. These are Site Partners, the people on the ground at each WHSRN site; Network Partners, the organizations that support the Network overall; and the Technical Committees, providing support to both Members and Partners.


How many sites and countries participate in the Network?

The Network currently has 88 sites in 13 countries, from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America [updated June 2012]. The first site was the Delaware Bay, USA, a Site of Hemispheric Importance dedicated in May 1986. 


Who are site landowners and what are their responsibilities?

Site landowners can be organizations such as government agencies from member countries, non-profit organizations, governing bodies for indigenous peoples, academic centers, businesses, and related conservation consortia that serve to execute the operational aspects of the Network. Landowners agree to: make shorebird conservation a priority, protect and manage shorebird habitat, and keep WHSRN informed at least annually of any changes in the site’s status including contact information.


What are the requirements for sites to be nominated for the WHSRN network?

To qualify for inclusion in the Network, a site must be of demonstrated importance to shorebirds and have the express agreement of the owners. Site importance is based on peak species counts or on calculated turnover rates in the following 3 categories:

  • Hemispheric sites are those visited by 500,000 or more shorebirds a year, and which account for more than 30 percent of the biogeographic population for a species.
  • International sites are those visited by 100,000 or more shorebirds a year, and which account for more than 10 percent of the biogeographic population for a species.
  • Regional sites are those visited by more than 20,000 shorebirds a year, and which account for more than 1 percent of the biographic population for a species.

Following a review process, final action on nominated sites is taken by the WHSRN Hemispheric Council.


How big is recreational bird-watching?

Birding is the number one sport in America. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently 51.3 million birders in the United States alone, and this number continues to grow! To begin birding, all you need are binoculars, a field guide and a blank notebook.

In 2001, birding contributed $31.7 billion to the U.S. economy. If birdwatching were a Fortune 500 company it would be bigger than Walt Disney, PepsiCo, Intel, and twice the size of Coca Cola. Birding and nature-tourism contributes over $1 billion annually to the economy of Costa Rica. The potential in other countries is just beginning to be discovered.


How can I support the work of WHSRN?

Sites forming the WHSRN network can be viewed in this web site. Individuals and representatives of organizations are encouraged to contact or visit sites in their area for a list of activities, as well as educational and recreational opportunities. Financial contributions supporting this important work are most welcome and can be made through Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Individuals wishing to be involved at an existing WHSRN site are urged to visit their web pages or contact the appropriate person listed at one of our site descriptions.


Can we apply to WHSRN for funding for a shorebird project?

WHSRN does not have funds to make grants. Instead, we work with our Site Partners and Network Partners to develop fundraising strategies, and occasionally, to craft joint proposals to funders.


How can corporations support WHSRN?

WHSRN is seeking the support of Corporate Partners to strengthen and grow this hemispheric network of critical wetlands and habitats that are vital for wildlife and human communities. WHSRN Corporate Partnerships offer companies a variety of ways to demonstrate business leadership and to accomplish corporate philanthropic and marketing goals. For more information on becoming a Corporate Partner of WHSRN, contact the Director of Development, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, at ccorriveau@manomet.org or (508) 224-6521.