Shorebirds and Drought in Eastern Oregon


Shorebirds and Drought in Eastern Oregon

Written by Teresa Wicks, Portland Audubon
Photos by Dan Streiffert

Throughout eastern Oregon and the Intermountain West migrating and nesting shorebirds depend on saline and freshwater lakes, playas, and nearby wetlands for refueling during migration and for breeding. For example, Wilson’s Phalarope use saline lakes throughout the region as stopover habitat. There they refuel and molt into their breeding plumage, sometimes doubling their body weight! The interior nesting Snowy Plover subspecies depend on these habitats and adjacent sandy soils for nesting and rearing their young. Lastly, western populations of Willet nest in wetlands, grasslands, and on pond or spring edges, sometimes in raised areas on mud flats! (Photo of black-necked stilt with Wilson’s phalarope by Dan Streiffert)

All of these species are found refueling and nesting at Malheur. As of April 1, 2023, the multi-year drought in southeastern Oregon continues. However, the abundant March precipitation has helped reduce the drought extent, and make up for the rather dry February conditions. With the recent cool temperatures, many of the lakes and reservoirs are intermittently frozen, potentially affecting available habitat for fall migrating shorebirds.

As climate change and the extended drought, coupled with the overallocation of water for agricultural and industrial purposes, continue to affect water availability, it will become increasingly important to monitor migrating shorebird populations. In an effort to understand how populations may have shifted since the 1990s, Point Blue Bird Observatory, National Audubon, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a 3-5 years shorebird monitoring project for the Intermountain West. Portland Audubon is partnering on this project, leading the effort to survey the Harney County lakes, wetlands, springs, and playas that are important for migrating shorebirds. April 27 and 28, volunteers will have the opportunity to sign-up to hike in the Double O area, an area that is closed to the public, while counting migrating spring shorebirds. (Photo of snowy plover adult in the background with snowy plover chick in the foreground by Dan Streiffert)



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