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Shorebird monitoring

Many of the species that use the East Asian—Australasian Flyway (the Flyway) spend the majority of their year in Australia. Estimating the population size of migratory shorebirds while they are in Australia is important for their management. Population monitoring is an integral part of shorebird conservation and requires international coordination.

Shorebirds in flight South East Gulf of Carpentaria Photo by Roger Jaensch

Quick facts

migratory shorebirds helps to track the migration of individual birds along a flyway. For example:
  • Birds are tagged with a green flag in Moreton Bay,
  • a yellow flag in north-western Australia
  • and an orange flag over a yellow tag in southern Australia.

Information on the numbers and distribution of migratory shorebirds in Australia started to accumulate in the late 1970’s and accelerated throughout the 1980’s with the establishment of the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG).  However, work didn’t begin in earnest in Queensland until 1992 when the Queensland Wader Study Group (QWSG) was formed as part of the then Queensland Ornithological Society Incorporated (QOSI), or Birds Queensland (BQ)  as it is known today.

The slow start in population assessment of shorebirds in Queensland was because of the vast coastline and the scarcity of volunteer shorebird watchers to make observations.  There has been a lot learnt about Queensland shorebirds since the early 1990s through the activities of QWSG and other groups and more recently through increased academic interest in Queensland shorebirds.

Much of the information on shorebird distribution comes from the presence of birds on high tide roost sites where they are easy to count rather than from assessment of intertidal feeding habitat. Furthermore, the austral summer period between December and February is the best time to assess shorebird numbers because migratory species are most settled in their non-breeding sites and are least likely to show fluctuation in numbers. The summer populations reflect the suitability of an area to sustain birds for a long period and to meet food requirements before the northward migration.

Information is still incomplete for many parts of the coastline but work continues.

Monitoring shorebirds

Population estimates of shorebirds are largely based on data collected over many decades by volunteer bird enthusiasts working with various shorebird study groups. Given the legislative protection and high profile of migratory shorebirds, this citizen science effort is an especially valuable contribution to biodiversity conservation and wetland management.

The Queensland Wader Study Group coordinates the collection of most population data within Queensland. The Australasian Wader Studies Group has a coordinating role throughout Australia and assists with intergovernmental efforts to conserve shorebirds throughout the Flyway. Australian and Flyway shorebird data are periodically reviewed and new population estimates made for Australia and the Flyway as a whole. Regular review is essential due to significant pressures being faced by migratory shorebirds and the declines in abundance of many species.

Thirteen locations in Australia each support more than 1% of the population of more than ten species of shorebird. Three sites are especially significant and have some of the highest concentration of shorebirds anywhere in the Flyway. Two of these sites occur in Western Australia and the third is in Queensland, in the South East Gulf of Carpentaria. Many other parts of the Queensland coastline also have high numbers of shorebirds.

Waterbird Population Estimates

The Waterbird Population Estimates (WPE) is an online database developed by Wetlands International with the support of Environment Canada and the Ramsar Convention. It allows access to the most recent regional shorebird and other waterbird population estimates and has archives of all previous estimates; hence there is an opportunity to consider long term trends in numbers throughout the Flyway.

Australia's national shorebird population monitoring contributes to the WPE process and is run through the Shorebirds 2020 Program. It is used to inform best management practice to maintain shorebird populations and uses volunteers to survey about 150 key shorebird areas in order to detect national population trends. Within Queensland, the Queensland Wader Study Group organises the Shorebirds 2020 surveys and has an even wider and more frequent regime of sampling shorebird numbers.

Last updated: 22 March 2013

This page should be cited as:

Shorebird monitoring, WetlandInfo, Department of Environment and Science, Queensland, viewed 11 February 2019, <>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science