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Waterbird Conservation Initiative

Georgia’s barrier island beaches, coastal salt marshes and freshwater wetlands support 86 species of seabirds, shorebirds and wading birds, collectively known as waterbirds. The Waterbird Conservation Initiative includes:

  • Protection of important colonial waterbird nesting habitats.
  • Surveys to determine status habitat needs of other resident, migratory and wintering waterbirds.
  • Identification of habitats important for these species.
  • Creation of government, private and citizen partnerships for long-term conservation of wetland-dependent bird species.

Conservation efforts include protection and management of five sand islands whimbrels in flightspecifically for beach-nesting and migratory birds. While this effort is especially valuable for seabirds, resident and migratory shorebirds also benefit from the protection of critical nesting and resting areas free from disturbances. One of the areas, Little Egg Island Bar, supports one of the largest colonies of nesting seabirds on the South Atlantic coast.

A dredge-spoil island near the Brunswick shipping channel created by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 2007 and owned by the state has become an important nesting site for Georgia’s waterbirds. The island supported a very large royal tern colony as well as smaller numbers of black skimmers, gull-billed terns, brown pelicans and laughing gulls in 2010. Least terns started nesting on the dredge island, but abandoned it and nested on Andrews Island instead.

Surveys on migrant and wintering shorebirds documented the continued importance of staging areas for red knots in the late summer and fall; spring staging of whimbrels that may include a significant portion of the Atlantic flyway population; the single largest concentration of wintering semipalmated plovers in the U.S.; and, an important Atlantic coast concentration of wintering piping plovers from all three breeding populations.

Cooperative research projects involving two large-bodied shorebirds, the American oystercatcher and marbled godwit linked Georgia’s conservation efforts for these Wildlife Action Plan priority species with the biological richness of at least 10 other states. Georgia’s wintering marbled godwits spend nine months in Georgia every year and breed in North and South Dakota, while Georgia’s wintering oystercatchers have been recorded nesting from South Carolina to Massachusetts.

A number of northbound whimbrels were fitted with radio and satellite telemetry backpacks. The radio-tagged birds were tracked on the Georgia coast before migrating, and the satellite-tracked birds were followed to their breeding grounds in Canada’s Northwest Territory. One was tracked all the way south to Suriname.

A beach and shell rake survey of the entire Georgia coast was conducted to count territorial pairs of American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers. Numbers of both birds have increased significantly since DNR’s last survey 10 years ago. The more recent effort documented 116 pairs of American oystercatchers and 359 pairs of Wilson’s plovers. Areas with high numbers of birds and potential for human disturbance were marked with signs.

During fall 2010, Nongame biologists also trapped and banded more than 90 American oystercatchers in the mouth of the Altamaha River.

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