Bird migration becoming more hazardous

Feb 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Can you imagine living your whole life in summer? In one of the most spectacular wildlife migrations on the planet, millions of shorebirds do exactly this by making a 20,000km round trip from their Arctic breeding grounds to wetlands in the southern hemisphere and then migrating north again each year.

Dr Richard Fuller from UQ's School of Biological Sciences is one of the researchers seeking to better understand the process .

“Australia is the end-point of one of these migration routes, the busy East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which connects us with a dozen Asian countries,” Dr Fuller said.

“This amazing wildlife spectacle is under threat.

"Some species using the flyway have declined enormously over the past couple of decades, with millions of birds being lost.

"Two of the commonest species (great knots and eastern curlews) are currently being considered for admission to the red list of species threatened with because they have declined so fast and so dramatically.

“What has caused these declines is not clear. There has been considerable loss of wetlands in Australia, but these appear not to be dramatic enough to explain the declines in migratory shore birds.”

But, according to Dr Fuller, there is another, more worrying possible explanation for the declines. During their migrations, the birds stop at “refuelling” sites in estuaries around the Yellow Sea, but these estuaries are rapidly disappearing because of land reclamation projects as the region undergoes an economic boom, he says.

“One of the biggest projects is at Saemangeum, South Korea, where construction of a 33km seawall has converted 40,000 hectares of prime estuarine habitat in to dry land," Dr Fuller said.

"It is estimated that approximately 100,000 birds could have been lost as a result of this development alone because they no longer have a place to refuel on their migration.”

“Conserving migratory animals is extremely hard because they fly across international borders. Robust international policies are needed to ensure protection of the whole route, because the whole system is only as strong as its weakest point.”

However, there is hope. Australia had signed bilateral agreements with Japan, China and South Korea aimed at protecting habitats for migratory , Dr Fuller said.

“The University of Queensland is working alongside Australian state and federal government to try and understand the causes of the birds' declines, and to discover solutions before it is too late to save one of the world's most spectacular migrations,” he said.

Explore further: PacifiCorp Energy pleads guilty in bird deaths (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Shorebird numbers crash: survey alarm

Apr 09, 2008

One of the world's great wildlife spectacles is under way across Australia: as many as two million migratory shorebirds of 36 species are gathering around Broome before an amazing 10,000-kilometre annual flight to their northern ...

Red knot birds threatened by crab decline

Feb 21, 2006

Virginia Tech and New Jersey scientists say a reduction in the number of red knot shorebirds is linked with a decline in Delaware Bay's horseshoe crabs.

Society warns cuckoo bird in danger of extinction

May 28, 2009

(AP) -- Britain's cuckoo bird, known for its distinctive call, is in danger of extinction along with 51 other species, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said in a new report Thursday.

Recommended for you

Study finds tropical fish moving into temperate waters

Dec 19, 2014

Tropical herbivorous fish are beginning to expand their range into temperate waters – likely as a result of climate change – and a new international study documents the dramatic impact of the intrusion ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.