The importance of subarctic intertidal habitats to shorebirds: A study of the central Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska

The Condor
By:  and 



A 6-year study of shorebird use of intertidal habitats of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta revealed this area to be one of the premiere sites for shorebirds throughout the Holarctic and worthy of designation as a Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The study area, which covered 10% (300 km2) of the delta's intertidal flats, regularly hosted 17 species of shorebirds between late April and mid-October. The greatest use was during the postbreeding period (late June-October), when Dunlins (Calidris alpina), Western Sandpipers (C. mauri), and Rock Sandpipers (C. ptilocnemis), each with large local nesting populations, accounted for 95% of the shorebirds recorded. Peak counts during autumn approached 300,000 birds. Considering the seasonal occurrence and turnover of populations, we estimate 1-2 million shorebirds use the central delta each year. The delta supports large fractions of the Pacific Rim or world populations of Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica), Black Turnstones (Arenaria melanocephala), Red Knots (C. canutus), Western Sandpipers, Dunlins, and Rock Sandpipers. Densities of shorebirds using the central delta's four major bays and connecting coastal areas peaked at 950 shorebirds/km2 in early September. Hazen Bay frequently hosted more than 1,200 shorebirds/km2. Postbreeding shorebirds used intertidal habitats in three distinct patterns according to age class. For most species (n = 7), there was a period when adults appeared first, followed by a brief interval when adults and juveniles mixed, then by a prolonged period when only juveniles remained. In the second pattern (n = 3 species), adults moved onto the intertidal flats first, were later joined by juveniles for a prolonged staging period, then migrated with them. In the third pattern (n = 3 species), only juveniles used the delta's intertidal habitat. Temporal segregation among species and age groups may minimize competition for food and thereby allow the delta to support high diversity and numbers of shorebirds.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The importance of subarctic intertidal habitats to shorebirds: A study of the central Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska
Series title The Condor
DOI 10.2307/1368690
Volume 92
Issue 3
Year Published 1990
Language English
Publisher Cooper Ornithological Society
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center, Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description 17 p.
First page 709
Last page 725
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
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