Willapa Bay and Long Beach Peninsula are located in southwest Washington State between Grays Harbor to the North (a WHSRN site of Hemispheric Importance) and the Columbia River Estuary to the South (a WHSRN site of Regional Importance). This region represents the largest remaining area of tidal mudflat habitat and coastal salt marsh habitat in southwestern Washington and the second largest estuary on the United States Pacific coast. Willapa Bay’s waters recede at low tides to expose nearly 50,000 acres of mudflats. The 27 mile Long Beach Peninsula provides beach and dune habitats, with a large proportions of shorebirds roosting on the peninsula’s outer beach.
The site qualifies as a Site of International Importance for Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus caurinus), Red Knot (Calidris canutus roselaari), and Dunlin (Calidris alpina pacifica). In addition to holding 10% or more of these populations, it is believed that at least 200,000-300,000 shorebirds migrate through the bay during spring migration. At least 43 species of shorebirds have been recorded at Willapa Bay or on the Long Beach Peninsula including Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, and Whimbrel. Western Snowy Plovers and Killdeer are two shorebird species that nest in this region. The site is known to host 1.6 % of wintering Black-bellied Plover, 6.1% of fall migrating Sanderling and 2.4% of fall migrating Whimbrel, 2.6% of breeding coastal Western Snowy Plover, 2.6% of spring migrating Western Sandpiper, and 1.8% of spring migrating Greater Yellowlegs.
This critical link along the Pacific Flyway is threatened by habitat loss from climate change, sea level rise, invasive species, and human disturbance. Increasing the awareness and appreciation of shorebirds in the region is important for the success of long-term conservation efforts.
Ecology & Conservation
Current conservation actions in the region include a multi-partner invasive species eradication program. This effort has resulted in an almost complete elimination of nearly 8,000 acres of non-native cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), restoring significant portions of estuarine habitat for shorebirds and other native wildlife. Partners are also working to build a constituency of support for shorebirds with student art. Regional youth have created artwork that was then turned into shorebird educational signs that were installed on beach and bay access areas. These signs will help more people understand the important habitat that the region provides to shorebirds and how to be a respectful visitor by sharing the beach with shorebirds.
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US Fish and Wildlife Service
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex