Migratory shorebirds in Australia make round trip migrations of up to 26,000 km each year between their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and their non-breeding areas in the south. They make these trips in several weeks, stopping only a few times at ‘staging sites’ along the way. These brief stops are vital for the birds need to rest and refuel for the next leg of their journey. If they can’t get enough food or rest they won’t make it to their next stop. If they stay too long at one place they will miss the Arctic summer-of-plenty and they and their chicks won’t be able to build up strength enough to survive the return trip.
The corridor in the sky along which the birds migrate is known as the East Asian - Australasian Flyway (the Flyway) . It extends from the Arctic Circle, through East and South-east Asia, to Australia and New Zealand. It stretches across 22 countries, it is one of 9 major waterbird flyways recognised around the globe. It sits above about 45 % of the world’s population.
Wetland habitat loss and degradation is a massive threat to migratory and resident shorebirds. Many pressures are contributing to this degradation, particularly population growth and economic development.
These birds are small winged interfaces between us and our global environment. Because they are dependent on a chain of sites and ecosystems to support them their presence or absence can tell us a lot about the shifting states of habitats across the globe.
Protecting and monitoring the birds is difficult because it requires cooperation across multiple countries. It requires a large network of organisations and individuals to collectively monitor them and track their movements because, unlike other endemic species, they are on the move.
However, the birds do have incredible site fidelity, which means they will often return to exactly the same sites year after year. They use various senses and systems to do this, but it’s still mysterious and mystifying.
They know how to get home.
They’re driven by a larger sense of purpose.