Past Shorebird Research

Science Center Objects

Below is information on past USGS research projects. 

Return to Wildlife, Fish, and Habitats >> Terrestrial Wildlife and Habitats >> Shorebird Research


A flock of shorebirds along Cook Inlet in the winter

Rock Sandpiper flock on the mudlfats near Kasilof, AK in the winter.
(Credit: Daniel Ruthrauff, USGS. Public domain.)

Winter Ecology of Rock Sandpipers (Calidris ptilocnemis)
Most species of shorebirds that breed in arctic and subarctic regions migrate south to avoid the harsh conditions that winter brings to these high latitudes.  One notable exception is the Rock Sandpiper Calidris ptilocnemis that has evolved an impressive strategy for dealing with winter in the far north.  The subspecies that were studied (C. p. ptilocnemis) nests on only three small islands in the Bering Sea, has a population numbering about 20,000 birds, and is common between October and March at sites throughout upper Cook Inlet, Alaska, at  61°N latitude.  During winter, Cook Inlet experiences severe cold, frequent storms, persistent ice cover, and limited daylight, but Rock Sandpipers seem quite adapted to these conditions.  How birds cope with quickly freezing foraging substrates, loss of foraging habitat due to seasonal accretion of sea ice, and actual accumulation of ice on their plumage and body during extreme cold weather were questions being addressed through our research.  From a conservation standpoint reserachers also investigated the timing and seasonal movements of Rock Sandpipers to and from upper Cook Inlet and the proportion of the subspecies’ population using upper Cook Inlet sites during winter.  This research was part of a collaborative study with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the University of Groningen in The Netherlands.


A shorebird on the tundra in Alaska

Whimbrel feeding on a hummock of dwarf shrub meadow habitat.
(Credit: Rachel M.Richardson, USGS. Public domain.)

An Inventory of Montane - and Alpine - nesting Shorebirds in Alaska

In 2000, the National Park Service formally implemented the Inventory and Monitoring Program within Alaska to address gaps in knowledge that preclude the effective management of National Park lands.  The goal of the Inventory and Monitoring Program was to document the occurrence and distribution of plants and animals within park lands.  

As part of the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program, biologists from the Alaska Science Center conducted an inventory of birds montane areas of the four northern parks in the Arctic Network of National Parks and montane regions of Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks and Preserves. This effort represents the first comprehensive assessment of breeding range and habitat associations for the majority of avian species in these areas. Ultimately, these data provide a framework upon which to design future monitoring programs.

We conducted inventories from 2001–2003 in the Arctic Network (Tibbitts et al. 2005) and from 2004–2006 in the Southwest Alaska Network (Ruthrauff et al. 2007), and these inventories form the basis for subsequent monitoring efforts.  We detected a total of 115 and 116 species of birds in the Arctic and Southwest Alaska Networks, respectively, including over 40 species of conservation concern in each network.  These inventories documented the broad-scale occurrence and habitat associations of species across these regions, providing the first comprehensive assessments of the status and distribution of this little-studied group of birds. 

In 2008, we finished our inventory of the Southwest Alaska Network by sampling sites in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. Information from these inventories will enable sound management decisions concerning montane - and alpine -nesting birds in these parks, educate the public, and enhance the overall appreciation of these park’s unique natural resources.