The term ‘shorebird’ often refers to a diverse group of wading birds that belong to one of thirteen different families and includes snipes, sandpipers, curlews, oystercatchers and stilts. Each year millions of migrant shorebird species travel along routes known as flyways. At least 20,000 birds from 20 species migrate from as far as Siberia and rest and feed on the Great Sandy Strait's mangrove-lined flats between September and April each year. They need to feed and rest undisturbed before their marathon return journey. Repeated disturbances use up their energy reserves, much needed for their flight onwards.
Shorebird feeding and roosting cycles are linked to the tides rather than day or night, with birds feeding at low tide and roosting at high tide. During high tide, different species of shorebirds will roost in mangroves, claypans or on open intertidal flats at or above the high tide mark, giving them a chance to digest their food, preen and rest. The Burnett Coast (Tannum Sands to Great Sandy Straits) supports over 150 high tide roost sites1. Keen eyesight and quick movements help some shorebirds capture surface prey and locate burrow openings. Others probe the soil, mud or water, detecting food with their sensitive bill tips.
Great Sandy Strait is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Migratory wader species listed under the Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and the China–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA) visit, roost and feed in the Great Sandy region.
While the Great Sandy Strait is a key shorebird habitat, there are more than 100 recognised shorebird roost sites distributed around the Great Sandy Marine Park many of which are not in the Strait2. Locations of the Great Sandy marine park shorebird roost sites can be viewed on WetlandMaps, via the department's WetlandInfo website. In addition to these recognised roost sites, shorebirds will opportunistically roost in other locations as habitats (e.g. exposed sand bars) are created and lost as a result of natural coastal processes.
A number of locations in the marine park are recognised as being part of the shorebird roosting and feeding designated area under the Great Sandy Marine Park Zoning Plan. The majority of the Great Sandy Strait and Tin Can Inlet, plus sites at Coongul Creek, Pelican Bank and Point Vernon are part of the designated shorebird roosting and feeding area. The objectives of the designated area are to protect shorebirds, particularly migratory shorebirds and their habitat; and to minimise harm or distress caused directly or indirectly to shorebirds by human activities or domestic animals. Protecting shorebirds from disturbance in the marine park is increasingly important as the numbers of many species are in decline, both locally within Australia and worldwide3, 4.
Resident shorebirds such as crested terns feed at sea and return to the beach to rest and digest their meal. Pied oystercatchers probe for pipis (bivalves) in the wet sand at low tide. They prise them open with their strong beaks. Eggs are laid in shallow sand depressions among dune plants or flotsam. Tiny dotterels are seen busily foraging for tiny creatures all along the shore. The once common beach stone curlews can be found feeding at low tide. Their dwindling numbers and their shy nature make such a sighting a rare treat indeed.
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1 Milton, D and Harding, S 2007, Shorebirds of the Burnett Coast: surveys of critical high tide roosts, Queensland Wader Study Group.
2DES (Department of Environment and Science), 2020.Great Sandy Marine Park Shorebird Roost Sites 1995-2019. State of Queensland (Department of Environment and Science. Note: Count data supplied by the Queensland Wader Study Group (a special interest group of the Queensland Ornithological Society Incorporated). Available on the Queensland Spatial Catalogue.
3Clemens, R.S., Rogers, D.I., Hansen, B.D., Gosbell, K., Minton, C.D.T., Straw, P., Bamford, M., Woehler, E.J., Milton, D.A., Weston, M.A., Venables, B., Weller, D., Hassell, C., Rutherford, B., Onton, K., Herrod, A., Studds, C.E., Choi, C.Y., Dhanjal-Adams, K.L., Murray, N.J., Skilleter, G.A., and Fuller, R.A., 2016. Continental-scale decreases in shorebird populations in Australia. Emu, 116: 119-135.
4Morrick, Z.N., Lilleyman, A., Fuller, R.A., Bush, R., Coleman, J.T., Garnett, S.T., Gerasimov, Y.N., Jessop, R., Ma, Z., Maglio, G., Minton, C.D.T., Syroechkovskiy, E. and Woodworth, B.K., 2021. Differential population trends align with migratory connectivity in an endangered shorebird. Conservation Science and Practice, 4, e594.
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