Shorebirds to Return to the Refuge Soon


Shorebirds to Return to the Refuge Soon

 

by Carla Rich Montez

 

Every year millions of shorebirds migrate. They leave their breeding grounds in the Arctic north and fly to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Along the way, they will stop at the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex where they will enjoy a needed rest and plentiful food.

Whether you’re a casual nature observer or an avid birdwatcher, you won’t want to miss a chance to see these remarkable birds. Here are some shorebird facts to help you enjoy their visit.

About Their Migratory Journey

·      Shorebirds travel farther than other migrating birds – up to 10,000 miles.

·      Their migratory route spans two continents in two hemispheres.

·      Most of their migration is done in the dark.

·      Their flight path takes them over hugely diverse landscapes like tundra, forests, mountain ranges and open seas.

·      While migrating, they endure exhausting weather conditions like strong winds, storms and temperature extremes.

·      Most shorebirds weigh little more than a slice of bread. It is remarkable that they survive their challenging migration.

Why Shorebirds Stop at the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex

·      Situated along the Illinois River, the refuge provides 124-miles of critical wetland habitat for migrating shorebirds.

·      This thriving floodplain between Peoria and Meredosia, Illinois, offers the shorebirds shallow water and mudflats where they find nutrient-rich food and protected resting areas.

·      The 12,000-acre refuge is part of a vast network of strategically placed shorebird stopovers recognized by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Which Shorebirds Stop at the Refuge?

·      During the fall and spring migration, over 200,000 shorebirds pass through the Illinois River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Complex.

·      About 35 shorebird species stop at the refuge.

·      Among the shorebirds that you may see are these regulars:

o   The tawny killdeer with its halting gate and namesake call

o   The dainty lesser yellowlegs

o   The long-winged pectoral sandpiper

·      Lucky birdwatchers may also see these unique shorebirds:

o   The stately, black-necked stilt with its colorful black-and-white feathers and pink legs

o   The elegant American avocet with its upturned bill and rusty head and neck

o   The nimble, black-bellied plover with its checkerboard wings

How We Can Help Shorebirds

When the birds leave the refuge, they will be refreshed, but they will not be out of danger. Wetlands are disappearing. The climate is changing. Land is being developed. Shorebirds are facing many threats.

But we can each take steps to ensure that shorebirds will continue to stopover at the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex.

·      During migration, reduce outdoor lighting. It can disorient shorebird navigation.

·      Keep your dog on a leash and away from the waterfront.

·      Re-route your running, walking and fishing when shorebirds are nearby.

·      Avoid using watercraft near shorebirds.

·      Protect wetlands. Standing water is habitat for shorebirds.

·      Advocate for clean water. Don’t pollute shorebird habitat.

·      Support those who preserve wetlands.

Mark Your Calendar

Beginning in late July, shorebirds begin arriving at the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex. They stop here on their way to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

Shorebirds will stop by the refuge again in mid-April or early May on their return to their breeding grounds in the Arctic north. But don’t delay your visit! When the shorebirds arrive, they stay at the refuge for only about a month.

About the Author

Carla Rich Montez is an Illinois Master Naturalist volunteering as an outdoor writer for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex.