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Maine's Migrating Shorebirds

Maine is an essential way station for
migrating shorebirds.  They stop in Maine
to rest and feed before striking out on an amazing 2,000 mile or more, nonstop
trip over the Atlantic to South America.

The shorebirds stop at specific staging areas in Maine to refuel along their
migratory routes from Canadian arctic breeding grounds to South American
wintering areas.  Maine’s staging areas are recognized internationally for their
importance to the existence of these shorebirds.  

Shorebirds are a diverse group that includes sandpipers, plovers, turnstones,
knots, curlews, dowitchers and phalaropes (but not herons, gulls, or

An individual bird stays on the Maine staging area between 10 and 20 days.  In
that short period of time, the bird must double its body weight to acquire the
fat reserves needed to fuel the next leg of its migration.  For example, a
sandpiper banded in Eastport, Maine was observed 48 hours later in Suriname,
South America.  Larger shorebirds equipped with satellite radios have flown
nonstop for 9 days to reach their next staging area.  

Once over the ocean the shorebirds are committed. If the birds do not have the
reserves to reach South America, they plummet into the sea or may reach their
wintering areas only to die shortly thereafter.  

The greatest variety of species and numbers of shorebirds visit Maine during
their southward migration.  Adults arrive in early July through mid August.  
Juveniles follow from mid-August through September. A few species have
later migrations in October and November.

While the populations of some shorebirds are stable, others are declining,
some dramatically.  Declining species that regularly use Maine staging areas
include the Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper,
Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Dunlin.

Staging shorebirds need feeding areas with lots of marine life in the tidal zone.  
They also need nearby roosting areas such as sand/gravel bars, rock ledges,
and saltmarsh areas that remain above the high water mark, allowing the birds
to rest and preen.

There are few locations along their migration path that provide adequate food
with close by roosting sites. Therefore shorebirds often concentrate in
extremely large groups.  Staging areas in the Bay of Fundy and Maine are the
most important southward staging areas for shorebirds in eastern North

Shorebirds are very loyal to traditional staging areas, a behavior that makes
them particularly vulnerable to altered or damaged habitats. If habitats are
harmed from development, pollution, or disturbance, shorebirds do not
readily relocate to new areas.  Maine shorebirds stage only in Maine. More
specifically, Casco Bay birds stage in Casco Bay; Cobscook Bay birds stay only
in Cobscook Bay.  If habitats deteriorate in one region, shorebirds will try to
tough it out rather than move further down the coast.

Maine is responsible for the shorebird populations that stage in Maine. To help
protect shorebirds, do your part by staying away from areas hosting large
flocks in the summer and fall.  To find out more about shorebirds, check out
our web site  

About this story:
This column was based on information from Dept. of Inland Fish and Wildlife
and edited by DEP Land & Water staff.   E-mail your environmental questions
to or send them to In Our Back Yard, Maine DEP, 17 State
House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.    
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