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Little Quill Lake; Photo: G. Beyersbergen
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Key Habitats

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN)

Six Sanderlings resting on a rock out on the water
Sanderlings; Photo: G. Beyersbergen,
Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) was established in 1985 to provide an international system of linked reserves which would protect important sites required by birds throughout their ranges. WHSRN has since become an active and successful conservation program, working to identify and protect key shorebird areas and provides support to the reserves in the form of: a) technical training for biologists and managers; b) technical assistance in habitat management; c) educational and outreach resources; d) local and regional monitoring of shorebirds; and e) collaboration in identifying funding for site projects. As of October 18, 2005, the network of over 165 organizations includes 63 officially recognized sites in 8 countries, stretching from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, protecting an estimated 10 million hectares of habitat and 30 million shorebirds.

The Network is essentially voluntary and collaborative in nature and depends on the cooperation of the landowners of the sites concerned for its successful operation. While establishing a WHSRN reserve does not require that a government sign any treaties or agreements, a Memorandum of Understanding for the management of each site is encouraged. The purpose of this document is to identify agreed upon objectives, resources, needs, and responsibilities for stakeholders at a WHSRN site. It is a voluntary agreement and implies no financial or administrative obligation. In many cases, a site has already received protection through designation as a National Wildlife Area, Provincial Wildlife Management Area, Ramsar site, or other reserve, or through "stewardship" arrangements with groups or individuals, and may be managed by a federal, provincial, state or private organization as appropriate. Even if a site is not formally dedicated as a WHSRN reserve, its recognition as meeting the WHSRN criteria may encourage conservation action to be taken should a problem arise.

Many species of shorebirds are highly migratory, undertaking long journeys from northerly breeding areas to more southerly wintering grounds. For instance, some 27 (64%) of the 42 species of shorebirds that occur regularly in Canada are long-distance migrants, many wintering in areas that are located in the southern U.S.A., Mexico, Central America and South America, some as far south as Tierra del Fuego. International cooperation in preserving the key habitats that the birds use during their impressive migrations is clearly required if conservation is to be successful.

Internationally coordinated research carried out in many parts of the Americas over the past 20-25 years has provided the information base that has led to the creation and development of the WHSRN. This work identified many of the key areas used by the birds throughout their migration ranges, and demonstrated that some species of shorebirds concentrate to a marked degree, with major proportions of the population occurring at only a few sites both during migration and on the wintering grounds. The birds depend on a chain of critically important sites to complete their annual migrations, each site providing the resources needed by the birds to enable them to reach the next area or to survive. For conservation to be successful, all the links in the chain need to be preserved, since removal of one vital area could disrupt the entire system. Shorebird migration monitoring is currently conducted through the International Shorebird Survey coordinated by WHSRN, the Maritimes Shorebird Survey in eastern Canada, Western Shorebird Survey along the west coast of North America and various wildlife agencies throughout North America's continental interior and is a result of collaboration with partners in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Categories of WHSRN sites

Three categories of WHSRN sites are recognized:

  • Hemispheric Sites: support at least 500,000 shorebirds annually, or 30% of the biogeographic population for a species. Hemispheric Sites are intended to include areas supporting major concentrations of shorebirds, with daily totals reaching about 50,000 birds during migration;
  • International Sites: support at least 100,000 shorebirds annually, or 10% of the biogeographic population for a species; and
  • Regional Sites: support at least 20,000 shorebirds annually, or 1% of the biogeographic population for a species.

Canada has been an active partner in the development of WHSRN. The Bay of Fundy Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve became the first WHSRN reserve to be created in Canada, with the dedication of two important areas in the upper Bay of Fundy: Shepody Bay in August 1987 and the Minas Basin in August 1988. The Quill Lakes in May 1994 (International Site) and Last Mountain Lake in September 1994 (Regional Site), both located in Saskatchewan, became the second and third WHSRN reserves to be dedicated in Canada. Beaverhill Lake, Alberta became the fourth WHSRN site when it was dedicated in May 1996 (Regional Site). Another site in Saskatchewan, dedicated May 1997, is Chaplin/Old Wives/Reed Lakes (Hemispheric Site). The newest site in Canada dedicated on April 29, 2005 is the Fraser River Estuary in British Columbia (Hemispheric Site). At least an additional 40 sites that meet WHSRN biological criteria have been identified in Canada and efforts continue to incorporate them into the network.

*This text is based on an excerpt from Morrison, R.I.G., Butler, R.W.,Beyersbergen, G.W., Dickson, H.L., Bourget, A., Hicklin, P.W.,Goossen, J.P., Ross, R.K. and Gratto-Trevor, C.L. 1995. Potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Sites for Shorebirds in Canada: Second Edition 1995. Canadian Wildlife Service Technical Report Series No. 227, 104 pp. Canadian Wildlife Service, Headquarters, Ottawa. Text updated March 2001.


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Last updated: 2007-11-08
Last reviewed: 2007-11-02
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