Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

History & Background

The idea for an international “series of protected areas linking key sites” for shorebirds throughout their range was first proposed Guy Morrison of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) in 1982 at an International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB) symposium (Morrison et al. 1995). The original concept, for totally protected “sister parks,” was intimately connected with the CWS atlas work done by Morrison and Ken Ross, quantifying the use of the South American “wintering” grounds by shorebirds breeding in Canada (Morrison and Ross 1989), as well as with work of the International Shorebird Surveys operated out of Manomet (then called the Manomet Bird Observatory). The idea was developed with Morrison and other researchers by J.P Myers, first at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and then at National Audubon Society.

Photo Credit: Charles Duncan
Myers and Pete McLain (New Jersey Department of Fish, Game and Wildlife) presented the idea to the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) in 1985. IAFWA adopted the plan and pledged to collaborate with the World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF) in advancing the network, now formally named WHSRN (Myers et al. 1987). This was a key step, because it brought the concept to the attention of a wide variety of wildlife managers across North America and served as justification for work on shorebirds (Morrison in litt. 2004). Other organizations including Audubon, CWS, and Manomet soon joined with IAFWA and WWF.

WHSRN was the first hemispheric system of linked reserves to protect important shorebird habitats. Fittingly for a Network concerned about protection of stopover and staging areas, hemispherically important Delaware Bay, U.S.A. was the first site accepted into the Network, nominated by the governors of the states of New Jersey and Delaware. It was declared in November 1985 and dedicated at a ceremony on May 21, 1986.

From the beginning, WHSRN’s governance has consistently been through a voluntary, representative Council. The first Council meeting included representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), CWS, the Suriname Forest Service, Manomet, the University of Córdoba, Argentina, and IAFWA. Many of these have been key institutional partners and leaders throughout WHSRN’s history. Many other organizations have also made important contributions, especially at the regional level, both in recruiting and supporting site nominations and in expanded shorebird conservation actions. WHSRN’s Coordinating Office, under a variety of names, has been variously housed over the years at the following organizations and locations: Wildlife Habitat Canada (Ottawa); Buenos Aires, Argentina; National Audubon Society (New York City, USA); and Manomet (Massachusetts, USA).

In 1991, a meeting of South American scientists and conservationists in Buenos Aires, Argentina resulted in a WHSRN “Strategic Plan for South America” within the context of the existing WHSRN Global Strategic Plan. In these documents, protection of wetlands and natural processes was recognized as being requisite for the conservation of shorebirds. In fact, it had become clear that shorebirds alone were not likely to engage the serious attention of managers in Latin American countries, where the conservation of “North American” shorebirds was probably not a high priority (Morrison in litt.2004, Finney in litt. 2004).

As a result, in 1993, WHSRN sponsored the launching of Wetlands for the Americas (WA), incorporated in July of that year. WA’s mission was broader than WHSRN’s, focusing on wetlands not only as habitats of importance to waterbirds (broadly defined), but especially as crucial for human societies. Geographically, WA concentrated on South America. In 1995, WA joined with IWRB in Europe and the Asian Wetland Bureau in Asia to create the global Wetlands International (WI) organization. WHSRN was maintained as a program within the WI structure. Unfortunately, this step coincided with an economic downturn that meant supporting both shorebird conservation and the greatly broadened mission became untenable. This, and the recognition of continued declines in shorebird populations, required a return to the concept of a network of crucially important shorebird sites. In 2000, WHSRN and WI separated, with WHSRN returning in its entirety to Manomet. Today, the two organizations retain a collaborative relationship.

Three key documents were created in the 1990s to identify sites meeting WHSRN’s criteria as a first step toward expanding and strengthening the Network. Morrison et al. (1991) published a CWS Technical Report entitled “Potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites for migrant shorebirds in Canada,” updated with a second edition in 1995. Also in 1995, Harrington and Perry published “Important Shorebird Staging Sites Meeting Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Criteria in the United States” with support from the USFWS and Wildlife Habitat Canada. In 1998, Blanco and Canevari published a report to CWS entitled “Identifying Wetlands of Critical Value to Shorebirds in South America.” These publications, along with Morrison and Ross’s 1989 “Atlas of Nearctic shorebirds on the Coast of South America,” though rapidly becoming dated, are still the most thorough summaries of the sites that deserve inclusion in WHSRN.

In 1995, representatives of the Network’s sites and partners met in Ottawa, Canada to outline strategic issues and develop forward action plans. One of the most important outcomes of that meeting was the recognition that national shorebird conservation plans were needed to provide a broad foundation for shorebird action. In 1998, Manomet, as WHSRN’s Coordinating Office, received a grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Division of Federal Aid to develop the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan It was completed through a broad-based process and published in 2000, with a slightly revised 2nd edition in 2001 (Brown et al. 2001). The Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan was developed and completed in 2000 (Donaldson et al 2000), and the Mexican Shorebird Plan is in draft form as of this writing. With the completion of these plans, WHSRN no longer had to be “all-things-shorebird,” but could again focus on the power of its original conception


Blanco, D. E. and P. Canevari, 1998. Identifying Wetlands of Critical Conservation value to Shorebirds in South America. Unpublished report to Canadian Wildlife Service, Latin American program, contract number K1837-7-7041. Wetlands International-Americas. Buenos Aires. 66 pp.

Brown, S., C. Hickey, B. Harrington and R. Gill, eds., 2001. United States Shorebird Conservation Plan. 2nd ed. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Manomet, Massachusetts. 60 pp.

Donaldson, G., C. Hyslop, G. Morrison, L. Dickson and I. Davidson, eds., 2000. Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, Special Publication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa. 34 pp.

Harrington, B. and E. Perry, 1995, Important Shorebird Staging Sites Meeting Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Criteria in the United States. U.S. Department of the Interior, No. Am. Wetlands Office, Washington, D.C.. 121 pp.

Morrison, R.I.G. and R.K. Ross. 1989. Atlas of Nearctic Shorebirds on the Coast of South America. Vols. 1 and 2, Can. Wildl. Serv. Spec. Publ., Ottawa.

Morrison, R.I.G., R.W. Butler, H.L. Dickson, A. Bourget, P.W. Hicklin, and J.P. Goossen. 1991. Potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Sites for Migrant Shorebirds in Canada. Tech. Rept. Series, No. 144. Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa.

Morrison, R.I.G., Butler, R.W.,Beyersbergen, G.W., Dickson, H.L., Bourget, A., Hicklin, P.W.,Goossen, J.P., Ross, R.K. and Gratto-Trevor, C.L. 1995. Potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Sites for Shorebirds in Canada: Second Edition 1995. Canadian Wildlife Service Tech. Rept. Series, No. 227, 104 pp. Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa.

Myers, J.P., P. D. McLain, R.I.G. Morison, P. Z. Antas, P. Canevari, B. Harrington, T. E. Lovejoy, V. Pulido, M. Sallaberry and S. E. Senner, 1987. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Wader Study Group Bull. 49, Suppl. IWRB Special Publ. 7: 122-124