Waterbird Breeding Ecology and Management

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The San Francisco Bay is designated as a site of hemispheric importance to shorebirds and annually supports over one million waterbirds. Within the USGS WERC waterbird breeding ecology program, Dr. Josh Ackerman and partners are studying habitat selection, movements, and factors influencing waterbird nest success and chick growth and survival. 

Breeding Waterbird Ecology and Management

For most avian taxa, the breeding season from spring nest initation to fall fledging is the most important time of year in the context of population growth and viability.  During this period, adult birds are investing significant energy and resources into the production and rearing of young and consequently this time is often a period of increased mortality.

Understanding the mechanisms and drivers during the waterbird breeding season is essential for effective management.  We are conducting several studies on breeding waterbirds in order to provide guidance on the best management practices to ensure waterbird conservation throughout the western United States.

Waterbird Nesting Ecology in San Francisco Bay

The San Francisco Bay is designated as a site of hemispheric importance to shorebirds and annually supports over one million waterbirds. The San Francisco Bay is highly urbanized but is currently undergoing the largest tidal wetland restoration effort on the West Coast of the United States. These dramatic habitat shifts, high levels of human disturbance, and a highly modified predator community exert significant pressures on locally breeding waterbirds. Despite these pressures, San Francisco Bay supports the largest breeding population of American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts on the Pacific Coast, and over 30% of the Pacific Coast breeding population of Forster’s Terns.

Within the USGS WERC waterbird breeding ecology program, we are studying habitat selection, movements, and factors influencing waterbird nest success and chick growth and survival.  We have found that waterbirds rely heavily on salt ponds for breeding and foraging, and this wetland habitat type should continue to be a part of the mosaic of restored wetlands within the Estuary.  We have also found that predation on waterbird nests and chicks is high, with California gulls representing a predominant predator within the Estuary.  We also have found that mercury contaminantion within the Estuary is high, and may be currently impairing avian reproduction.

Click this story map link: Re-establishing Waterbird Breeding Colonies in San Francisco Bay to explore how USGS WERC and partners are using ​science and management to maintain and establish new ​bird ​nesting colonies in support of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.