Each year between October and April we are privileged to have Shorebirds that nest in the Arctic return to feed and recuperate in the Wilson Inlet. They travel an incredible distance, between 10,000 and 13,000km along an international flight path known as the East Asian Australasian Flyway. They range in size from the Red-necked Stint, weighing just over 30g (the weight of two 50c coins) to the Bar-tailed Godwit, at 400g. In all approximately twenty species of Migratory Shorebirds use the Wilson Inlet all of which come under special protection through International Agreements. The Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot and Curlew Sandpiper are classified as “Critically Endangered” whilst the Red Knot is considered to be “Endangered” under Commonwealth Legislation. All of these regularly feed and roost in the vicinity of the Prawn Rock Channel.
There is much speculation on the origins of migration; clearly there is a huge benefit in breeding in the north to take advantage of an untapped food source becoming available because of melting ice. Then flying south before the ice returns to benefit from the more abundant food in the Southern Hemisphere summer. It may be that this behaviour developed during ice ages when the distance between the two destinations was much less.
They feed on a wide variety of invertebrates with individual species specialising according to their type and length of beak. They don’t have teeth; instead muscular stomachs break down their food during times of rest, which is why roosting areas are so critical.
The threats to these birds are both international (coastal developments in critical staging / feeding sites in the Yellow Sea) and local (limited feeding areas due to deep water, disturbance resulting in burning valuable “fuel” and restricting feeding time to replenish reserves to sustain migration).
Their future is very much in our hands.