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Shorebirds have distinctive lifestyles that typically involve trans-equatorial migrations. They generally breed in the northern hemisphere during the northern summer and migrate to and from the southern hemisphere each year. Because of their annual migration, they experience mostly long days and warm conditions year-round, which normally equates to a plentiful food supply. However, shorebirds must use widely separated and dissimilar environments at each end of their journey and also during their migration as stopover sites to rest and regain weight. Shorebird survival depends upon the existence of suitable habitat and the ability to utilise these habitats in locations that are many thousands of kilometres apart.

Bird wetland indicator species and profiles

Shorebirds (whimbrels & godwits) Photo by Roger Jaensch

Quick facts

Waders, or shorebirds
make up 10% of Australia's bird species. This grouping is comprised of sandpipers, plovers and other species.
Common sandpiper Photo by Andrew McDougall

Of the 55 shorebird species that regular occur in Australia, 17 are resident species. That is, they breed in Australia and do not migrate. One other species, the Australian pratincole, breeds on semi-arid plains of central and northern Australia and migrates to south east Borneo, Java and New Guinea.

The remaining 37 species are all migratory and use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which extends from breeding grounds in the Alaskan and East Siberian tundras and forests, and the steppes and deserts of Mongolia and extreme Northern China, to non-breeding areas in South-east Asia, Australasia and New Zealand. Shorebirds spend the majority of their time in their non-breeding environments.

Great knot Photo by Ken Jones

Unlike the resident species, migratory shorebirds travel huge distances each year. However resident Australian species may move long distances between suitable wetland habitat depending upon changes in local conditions and time of year. Extreme and unpredictable, or regular changes between wet and dry conditions in Australian are usually the cause of movements of many resident shorebirds.  Migratory species that use freshwater wetlands are similarly at the behest of changes of varying conditions in Australian wetlands.

Of the 55 species, several occur in quite low numbers and are seldom seen in Queensland. They include the red-necked phalarope, little ringed plover, long-toed stint, common redshank and pin-tailed and swinhoe’s snipes. Furthermore, two of the resident species, banded stilt and hooded plover, have distributions that centre on southern inland regions or southern coastal regions respectively, and are not typical of the Queensland shorebird community. Nor is the resident plains wanderer, which is primarily distributed in south eastern, inland Australia.

Additional information

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Last updated: 22 March 2013

This page should be cited as:

Shorebirds, WetlandInfo 2014, Department of Environment and Science, Queensland, viewed 11 February 2019, <>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science