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Waterbird Monitoring Program

Identification and protection of critical waterbird habitats

Photo Gallery
Brown Pelicans in dive - Photo by Maria Johnson

The Waterbird Monitoring Program (WMP) began in 1997 with two senior project students who created a methodology and conducted an initial census of the Double-crested Cormorant colony on Isla Alcatraz. Since that time projects have evolved and expanded to study regional island and estuarine ecosystems, and the abundant migratory and resident waterbirds that use them. In the central gulf coast of Sonora and its islands, roughly half of the common avian species are classified as waterbirds – birds that obtain the majority of their diet from salt or fresh water. Due to their various habitat and food quality needs, waterbirds as a group act as indicators for ecological health. In addition, due to their sheer abundance, diversity, and often density, they can act as flagship species for conservation of specific sites such as the islands and estuaries on which they rely.

Recent studies have shown that many species of waterbirds are declining on a global scale as a result of habitat loss and climate change, among other reasons. Most waterbirds are highly social and colonial nesters, forming colonies of a few individuals to several million.

The above mentioned reasons combined with the small amount of ornithological attention that has focused on the central Sonora coast, provides the impetus for the waterbird studies at the Kino Bay Center.

Currently, the WMP has several projects focusing on waterbird conservation. In the coastal wetlands, locally known as esteros, projects addressing diversity and abundance of migratory and resident birds throughout the fall, winter, and spring, have shown that Estero Santa Cruz and Estero Cardonal meet the qualifying criteria for being recognized as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Sites of Regional Importance, and Important Bird Areas (IBA) as recognized by BirdLife International. Work has begun to address the feasibility and practicality of each designation; in December 2010, Estero Santa Cruz and Estero Cardonal were both nominated as IBAs. In 2013, Estero Santa Cruz was declared a Wetland of International Importance through the United Nations Ramsar Convention.

Work on Isla Alcatraz includes multispecies (14) nest monitoring throughout the fall, winter, and spring of each year. This research addresses diversity and abundance as well as spatial distribution. We have also investigated the presence of nesting Craveri’s Murrelets on the Sonora Midriff Islands and their nest site preferences.

Waterbird Monitoring Projects

Waterbird Partners & Resources