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East Asian—Australasian Flyway

Across the world there are several identifiable 'flyways' for species that have similar breeding or non-breeding ranges and migration patterns. Australia is one of 22 countries within the East Asian—Australasian Flyway and migratory waterbirds reach it via one or more of these countries, e.g. from breeding grounds in Russia or New Zealand.

Shorebird migration is among the most extraordinary feats of travel in the animal kingdom. Each species has its own breeding and non breeding distribution and habitat preferences. Each has its own migration strategies, flight routes and stopover sites.

Australia is the southern destination for shorebirds using the East Asian—Australasian Flyway and a significant proportion of birds arriving here either stay in Queensland, transit through Queensland to New South Wales, Victoria or Tasmania, or travel through to New Zealand.

Migration along the East Asian—Australasian Flyway

Image by EAAFP Secretariat

Migratory shorebirds of the East Asian—Australasian Flyway breed in parts of northeast Asia (eastern Siberia and China), to as far west as the Taymyr Peninsula in the far north of Russia and as far east as Alaska (e.g. some bar-tailed godwits). Most of these birds migrate southward before the onset of winter, with the destination for many being the warmer feeding habitats of Australia.

After spending the summer in the south, the first leg of the northward migration from Australia for waterbirds can be a very long flight of more than 6,000 km to reach a staging site in the flyway, such as the mudflats around the Yellow Sea in China and Korea. The Yellow Sea region of the flyway is especially important as birds need to spend time here feeding to regain weight lost in consuming body fat that powered the first leg of their journey north from Australia, and to prepare for arrival at their breeding grounds.

Birds of most species travel 20,000 km to the northern hemisphere and back to Australia each year. The epic journeys of bar-tailed godwits across the Pacific Ocean to the east coast of Australia and New Zealand from Alaska include nonstop flights of up to 13,000 km.

Shorebirds that occur in large numbers in Australia originate from the following areas:

This is the journey of a female bar-tailed godwit referred to by researchers as 'E7'
Image by PRBO Conservation Science; USGS Science Center
  • central Asian deserts (greater sand plover)
  • bogs, wet meadows and swamps of far-eastern Russia (eastern curlew)
  • Siberian marshlands (asian Dowitcher, black-tailed godwit and broad-billed sandpiper)
  • far eastern Russian riverbeds (grey-tailed tattler, terek sandpiper)
  • tundra mountain slopes in the Anadyr region, north of Kamchatka (great knot)
  • area of the tundra overlooking the Arctic Ocean (red knot and ruddy turnstone).
  • tundra wetlands of western Alaska facing the Bering Sea (bar-tailed godwit subspecies baueri).

The East Asian–Australasian Flyway includes a complex of many islands and ocean crossings, spans many countries and contains nearly half the world’s humans. Areas of the Flyway are subject to large-scale, rapid economic development and consequently many waterbird populations in this flyway are threatened or in decline.

More information is available on the cooperative management of shorebirds and their habitat under the East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP).

Additional information


Last updated: 22 March 2013

This page should be cited as:

East Asian—Australasian Flyway, WetlandInfo 2014, Department of Environment and Science, Queensland, viewed 11 February 2019, <https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/components/fauna/birds/eaa-flyway.html>.

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