Shorebird Research

Science Center Objects

With its vast size and geographic position at the northern end of several migration pathways, Alaska is a critically important site for the world’s shorebirds. Thirty-seven shorebird species regularly breed in Alaska. Most of these species conduct epically long migrations to take advantage of Alaska’s abundant food resources and breeding habitat, making Alaska a global resource for shorebirds. Shorebird research at the USGS Alaska Science Center improves our knowledge of shorebirds and addresses key questions for management agencies about the distribution and abundance of these species.

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A Bar-tailed Godwit with a Z0 tag on it's leg and a satellite transmitter antenna emerging from rear feathers

Bar-tailed godwit "Z0" instrumented with an implanted Argos satellite transmitter (note dorsally exposed antenna) to facilitate aerodynamics during the species non-stop flights across the Pacific Ocean. 
(Credit: Daniel Ruthrauff, USGS. Public domain.)


Population Status and Ecology of North Pacific Shorebirds

Research on the population status and ecology of shorebirds in Alaska focuses on identifying critical phases of the annual cycle for these species. Because ninety percent of the migratory shorebird species in the Western Hemisphere have breeding populations in Alaska, our current research necessarily incorporates work that describes migratory routes and connections between Alaska and sites around the globe where these species stopover or spend the nonbreeding season. Such studies require large-scale, collaborative efforts that employ a variety of techniques to gain perspectives appropriate to the scale and range of these highly migratory species. Information from these studies is guiding conservation efforts and helping scientists and conservation groups to better understand the effects of global-scale threats to shorebirds, including habitat modification and degradation, climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases.


Species scientists are working with include:

A long-beaked brown bird standing in the grass

Bristle-thighed Curlew.
(Credit: Rachel M. Richardson, USGS. Public domain.)

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

​​​​​There are four species of godwits distributed around the world. 

Under the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, they are a species of High Concern mainly due to their small population size, threats to their non-breeding grounds (especially at migratory stopover sites in the Yellow Sea), and their relatively restricted breeding distribution within the United States

Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis
The Bristle-thighed Curlew breeds only in North America.  Its adult population numbers about 7,000 individuals, making it the rarest of the New World curlews and godwits. 

Due to their small population and threats to their nonbreeding grounds, the Bristle-thighed Curlew is a species of High Concern under the US Shorebird Conservation Plan and a Vulnerable species according to BirdLife International.

Image: Long-Billed Curlews

The Long-billed Curlew is the largest North American shorebird and is characterized by its long and decurved bill.
(Credit:  USGS. Public domain.)

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)
The Long-billed Curlew is the largest shorebird in North America. 

Under the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, they are a species of High Concern mainly due to population declines over parts of their range, their small population size, and threats to their non-breeding and breeding grounds.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Whimbrels are similar in plumage but slightly smaller than Bristle-thighed Curlews.



Whimbrel on the tundra on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska

Whimbrel on the tundra on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska.
(Credit: Rachel Richardson, USGS. Public domain.)