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Davis Journal

Year of the Shorebird declared at Great Salt Lake

Jul 08, 2021 02:12PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

A Baker’s Dozen: A family of 13 goslings and two adult Canadian Geese stroll the road between lakes at the Reserve. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

In May, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declared 2021 as the “Year of the Shorebird” at the Great Salt Lake and in Utah, and the year of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site at Great Salt Lake. It celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Great Salt Lake Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network designation, the highest level of designation given to a site by the Network.

The announcement coincided with the annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, held for the 23rd year at the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Wildlife Education Center at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. The event was not held in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“This declaration signaled and highlighted the importance of Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem for many of our bird species,” said Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Brian Steed. “We also greatly appreciate the many partnerships that work to study and help preserve this unique ecosystem for the benefit of wildlife and others.”

Great Salt Lake and its associated wetlands provide an invaluable food source to around 10 million migratory birds annually, including about 330 different species. Great Salt Lake receives the largest percentage of the world’s population of Eared Grebes feeding during their migration. Between 3 million and 5 million Eared Grebes have been documented using Great Salt Lake as a stopover spot during their migration each year from September to October.

The lake also supports nearly one-third of the global population of Wilson’s Phalaropes, more than 56 percent of the global population of American Avocets, and 37 percent of the North American population of Black-necked Stilts. The lake’s shoreline, playas and mudflats also support 21 percent of the North American breeding population of Snowy Plovers, a species identified as one of greatest conservation needs by Utah’s Wildlife Action Plan.

“Great Salt Lake is a hub for migratory birds throughout the Americas, and the people of Great Salt Lake have also created a hub of collaboration, connecting communities and cultures whose livelihoods and welfare depend on the conservation and wise use of the natural habitats which are critical to shorebirds and other migratory species,” said Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Executive Director Rob Clay said.

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network conserves shorebird habitat through a network of key sites across the Americas. Currently, there are 107 sites in 17 countries covering 38 million acres. Partners at each location commit to conserving and managing sites to benefit breeding, migrating and wintering shorebirds. Thirty years after its designation, Great Salt Lake continues to play a vital role in providing for shorebirds, with some species migrating from their wintering grounds at the southern tip of South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra, using Great Salt Lake as a stopover site to rest and refuel during their journeys each spring.

In addition to its Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network designation, both the National Audubon Society and Birdlife International recognized five bays of Great Salt Lake as “Globally Important Bird Areas,” with the lake and its associated wetlands providing important habitat for more than 10 million migratory and breeding shorebirds, waterfowl and other water birds each year.