Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway
Environment Australia and Wetlands International, 2002
Shorebirds are among the most impressive migratory species in the world and are found feeding in shallow water at both coastal and inland wetlands. Common examples include plovers, sandpipers, curlews and snipe.
Migratory shorebirds experience an endless summer by flying between the southern and northern hemispheres. Each year, millions of migratory shorebirds travel great distances between their breeding and non-breeding areas. Some species of shorebird, weighing as little as 30 grams, may travel 25,000 kilometres in one year. Some birds are known to fly more than 6,000 kilometres without stopping.
During their non-breeding phase, they fly to the southern hemisphere in flocks; their destinations include North and South-East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand. Arriving in August and September, the birds feed mainly on small creatures living in mudflats during the Australian summer.
In March and April, these birds fly from the feeding grounds to breed in the tundra areas of the northern hemisphere, such as the Russian Far East and Alaska.
Flyways of shorebirds
Shorebirds make the journey in several weeks stopping a few times, or perhaps only once, along the way. When they stop, they need to build up reserves of fat for the next long stage of their journey. At times a large percentage of the entire population of a species may be at a single site.
The routes they travel along are called flyways. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway extends from the Arctic Circle through Eastern and South-East Asia to Australia and New Zealand (see map).
Flyways consist of chains of important wetlands, usually coastal mudflats. These provide abundant and easily found food, which the shorebirds must rapidly consume in order to gain enough strength for the next leg of their journey.
The ability to find food quickly is vital when the birds are flying to their northern breeding grounds as the northern summer is very short. The birds cannot afford delays that can affect their chance of breeding successfully.
The degradation and loss of the feeding sites is the single greatest threat to shorebirds. Many areas have been lost through pollution and reclamation for urban, industrial and agricultural development. Hunting and disturbance of shorebirds may also be a serious threat in some parts of the Flyway.
The continued existence of wetlands in all countries is crucial to the conservation of migratory shorebirds.
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Ph: (02) 6274 2393 Fax: (02) 6274 1741
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts supports the activities of Wetlands International in promoting the Asia Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-2005 and the Shorebird Action Plan: 2001-2005.
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Ph: (02) 6274 2780