Shorebirds are a diverse group of species that are wetland-dependent. Thirty-five species of shorebirds either breed (11 species) or migrate (24 species) through the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture (NGPJV) region. Although species differ somewhat in habitat use and requirements, shorebirds in general are associated with the shallows of wetlands, mudflats, wetland margins, ephemerally flooded cropland, short- to mid-grass pastures, riverine edges and sandbars; water can range from alkaline to fresh. Many shorebirds forage for invertebrate prey in these shallows, while some species strongly associated with short-grass habitats forage almost exclusively in adjacent or more distant upland areas. Optimal water depth is related to leg length of individual species (i.e., shorter species forage in shallower water) but generally is in the range of 2-10 cm. Shorebirds require good visibility for predator detection and thus avoid areas with tall vegetation (taller than their heads) that obstruct views. Many migrants are highly gregarious, foraging in flocks of up to hundreds or thousands of individuals, while some breeding species are solitary. 

Eight of the 11 shorebird species that breed in the NGPJV region are priority species of concern, they are: Piping Plover, Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, Willet, and Wilson’s Phalarope. The Piping Plover is classified as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the Great Plains region and can be observed nesting on sandbars on the Missouri River, and along edges of alkali lakes. Unlike its counterpart, the Mountain Plover can be observed nesting far from water in disturbed short-grass prairie, interspersed with bare ground, e.g., prairie dog towns, intensively grazed areas, and occasionally plowed fields. The Long-billed Curlew can often be found far from water in short-grass prairie, and the Upland Sandpiper similarly will nest far from water but in mid- to tall grass prairies. The Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, Willet, and Wilson’s Phalarope all nest within wetland margins or nearby upland habitat.

Habitat fragmentation and conversion of upland habitats surrounding wet areas, and wetland drainage continue to negatively impact the productivity of all species, especially wetland-dependent ones. Protecting and enhancing these areas greatly improves the nesting success and survivability of species, creating a diversified, healthy landscape that will benefit all species, including shorebirds.     


Goals from the Northern Plains/PPR Shorebird Plan (Skagen and Thompson 2000) are:

  1. Attain self-sustaining populations of shorebirds breeding in the NP/PPR
  2. Ensure that stopover habitat is not limiting for migrant species
  3. Identify and fill in information gaps
  4. Develop spatially explicit monitoring programs to determine population status (increasing, decreasing, or stable) 
  5. Characterize landscapes that are conducive to high breeding productivity
  6. Determine vital rates and identify limiting factors of breeding populations
  7. Choose umbrella species, based on responses to threats and limiting factors, that represent the needs of multiple species
  8. Identify factors that may limit the quality of stopover habitat
  9. Coordinate with other conservation efforts at multiple spatial scales
Piping PloverLong-billed CurlewUpland SandpiperMarbled GodwitAmerican AvocetWilletWilson's Phalarope

NGPJV Shorebirds


Shorebirds > pages 55 - 63.