The North American group of shorebirds includes 48 kinds of sandpipers, plovers, and their allies, many of which live for most of the year in coastal marine habitats; other live principally in nonmarine habitats including grasslands, freshwater wetlands, and even second-growth woodlands. Most North American shorebirds are highly migratory, while others are weakly migratory, and even nonmigratory in some parts of their range. Here we discuss shorebirds east of the 105th meridian (roughly east of the Rocky Mountains). Historically, populations of many North American species were dramatically reduces by excessive gunning (Forbush 1912). Most populations recovered after the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, although some species never recovered and others have declined again.
High proportions of entire populations of shorebirds migrate by visiting one or a small number of "staging sites", areas where the birds accumulate fat to provide fuel before continuing with their long-distance, nonstop flights to the next site (Morrison and Harrington 1979; Senner and Howe 1984; Harrington et al. 1991). Growing evidence (Schneider and Harrington 1981) indicates that staging areas are unusually productive sites with highly predictable but seasonally ephemeral "blooms" of invertebrates, which shorebirds use for fattening. In some cases, especially for "obligate" coastal species, specific sites are traditionally used; even other species sites may shift between years. Because pf this, conservationists believe some species are at risk through loss of strategic migration site (Myers et al. 1987). Other species are threatened by the less of breeding and wintering habitats (Page et al. 1991; Haig and Plissner 1993; B. Leachman and B. Osmundsom, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unpublished data).
The predicted consequences of global warming, such as sea-level change, will also strongly affect the intertidal marine habitats, which many species of shorebirds depend upon. Some of the strongest warming effects will be at high latitudes, including those where many shorebirds migrate to breed, as well as south temperate latitudes, where many of them winter.