Nature Canada

Threatened Shorebirds in the Eeyou Istchee

Shorebirds, as a group, require special conservation attention. They have declined by about 40 percent over the last 50 years.

Shorebirds are a group of birds from two main families, the sandpipers and the plovers. Sandpipers have relatively long beaks that can be curved or straight, along with relatively small heads, whereas plovers have short stout beaks and relatively big heads. Both have long legs and are found along the shores such as beaches, mudflats, and rocky headlands where they use their beaks to get food on or beneath the surface.

These are both large families and include individual species that live in a wide range of habitats. In the sandpiper family, species range in size from very large Whimbrel with its distinctive drooping bill or the equally large Marbled Godwit with its very long and straight bill, to the tiny Least Sandpiper, the smallest of this clan.

In the group of plovers observed along James Bay, the size difference is less dramatic, but spans Black-bellied Plover, which is a bit larger than a Robin, to the Semipalmated plover, which is about half the size of its black-bellied cousin.

Red Knot

There are three subspecies of Red Knot in Canada: rufa, roselaari, and Islandica. Rufa is federally Endangered, and is the subspecies that breeds at lower latitudes of the Canadian Arctic. Rufa populations migrate through Cree homelands of James Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and southern South America. Roselaari, the more westerly subspecies, breeds in Alaska and Siberia and is listed as Threatened by SARA. Islandica is the easterly subspecies, breeding on the northeastern islands of the Arctic Archipelago including Baffin Island and Greenland. Its status is Special Concern.

The Rufa Red Knot’s migration is legendary! It is about 30,000 km annually from the Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego (Chile/ Argentina) and back. Learn more about it in our comic A Year in the Life of a Red Knot. Rufa Red Knots spend days to weeks feeding and resting along the James Bay coast before multiday flights south to the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the coastal USA and from there to South America. Several sites within the coastal territory of the Cree Nation of Waskaganish may be important stopover habitat for this species. The western side of James Bay is extremely important as stopover areas for the Red Knot.

Hudsonian Godwit

This coastal migrant has an extremely small breeding range that extends from the coast of Northwestern Hudson Bay to the Mackenzie Delta. This large, long-billed shorebirds also has a tremendous migration that takes it to the tip of South America and back. It uses that long bill to probe deep into mud and tidal flats in search of worms, molluscs and other invertebrates. Along James Bay, watch for the big and impressive shorebird in the rich bays and coastal mud flats near river deltas.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

This species is less common than the previous two along the James Bay coast, but occasionally is found along the coast or in areas of habitats characterized by short grassy vegetation. It is listed as Special Concern on Schedule One of Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Unlike most sandpipers, this species also is found in dryer areas. It over-winters in the southern cone countries of South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay).

Red-necked Phalarope

Phalaropes are aquatic shorebirds, observed outside their breeding season on open water including the open ocean. Along the coast of James Bay, this species can turn up on migration of small ponds in from the water’s edge. This phalarope is listed as Special Concern on Schedule One of SARA. It breeds across the arctic, from Labrador to Alaska, and winters largely on the open ocean of the coasts of North America. Unlike other shorebirds, the female phalarope is more brightly coloured, and the male exclusively incubates the eggs.

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