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Shore Birds

Population Status


Migration: Migrant shorebirds are more common in fall than in spring along the North Coast. Phalaropes (mostly Red-necked but also Red) use inshore waters in large numbers in fall. Other shorebirds use the coast in relatively small numbers. These include American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Pectoral Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and other breeding species, as well as some species which occur only as migrants (Black-bellied Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling).

Breeding/nesting: The Yukon North Slope supports significant breeding populations of 18 species of shorebirds, including (in approximate order from most common to least common): Red-necked phalarope, Semipalmated Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Dowitcher, Baird's Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Stilt Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Wandering Tattler, Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. Eighteen of the Yukon's 23 breeding shorebird species nest on the North Slope. Although shorebirds nest across the North Slope, Phillip's Bay may hold special importance as the densities of shorebirds there are typically higher than either the Mackenzie Delta or the Tuktoyaktuk peninsula. On Herschel Island, the common nesting shorebirds are American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated and Baird's sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstone (rare in recent years).

Staging: There are few known areas where shorebirds concentrate during fall migration. The Babbage River delta has been recognized as an important shorebird staging area, and Nunaluk and Avadlek spits are known to support large numbers of staging phalaropes.

Population size:

The Yukon coastal plain supports a significant population of shorebirds. Breeding bird transects reported 16.9 shorebirds/km transect on the Yukon portion of the coastal plain in 1986. As many as 2 million shorebirds have been estimated for the adjacent coastal plain in Alaska during the summer. As for staging, over 50,000 phalaropes alone were estimated to have staged at one time along the windward side of Nunaluk Spit.

Population trend:

According to the Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, many species of shorebirds in Canada are in decline.

Unique or special characteristics:

Many of the Yukon’s shorebirds breed only on the North Slope; these include Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Red Phalarope. In addition, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Shimbrel, Baird's Sandpiper, and Red-necked Phalarope are more common on the North Slope than elsewhere in the territory.

Habitat Features

Shorebirds nest in a diversity of habitats on the entire coastal plain and inland along waterways, and in the foothills and mountains. The seven Yukon species which nest only on the North Slope use tundra habitats on the coastal plain and on Herschel Island. Significant staging areas include the major river deltas, particularly the Babbage River delta, and the extensive spits, such as the Nunaluk and Avadlek spits.


The Inuvialuit have the right to harvest Migratory Game Birds. By definition, within the Migratory Birds Convention Act, this includes waterfowl, cranes, rails, shorebirds, and pigeons.

Harvesting Rights
Ivvavik National Park Exclusive None Permitted
Herschel Island Territorial Park Exclusive None Permitted
East of the Babbage River Preferential Snipe only, under licence, bag limits
Adjoining NWT exclusive on Inuvialuit lands and preferential on Crown lands Snipe only, under licence, bag limits

Migratory Birds Regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act apply. Other than snipe, the harvest of shorebirds in Canada is prohibited.


Many of these species are found only in the Arctic. Others, such as the Wandering Tattler are found only in the northwest part of the continent. The variety and abundance of shorebirds on the North Slope and the elaborate color and pattern of birds such as the American Golden-Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Red Phalarope, make an unforgettable impression on any northern traveler. The fascinating and sometimes bizarre breeding displays performed by these shorebirds on the North Slope are not seen in the south and are particularly exciting for visitors to witness.


The Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, led by the Canadian Wildlife Service, emphasizes that all Arctic-breeding shorebirds are at some risk and in need of conservation measures. The report sets priorities for shorebirds across the north. The effects of climate change are unknown.

Species at Risk Status

Numerous shorebirds are classified as At Risk/May be At Risk and as Sensitive Species.

Research and Monitoring

Population monitoring

: There is an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island (also see research section, below).


The Canadian Wildlife Service conducted studies on bird distribution and habitat mapping in 1992 and 1993, and on rare shorebirds in 2003.

In June 2005, the Canadian Wildlife Service began a two-year survey to study shorebirds and other tundra birds on the Yukon North Slope, Mackenzie Delta and Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. The objective of the program was to document the number and location of nests, and to estimate overall numbers of shorebirds and other tundra birds. These surveys are part of an Arctic-wide monitoring program that is repeated every 10 years. In 2006, the total area being covered as part of the survey program was expanded. On the Yukon North Slope, with its focus on the coastal plain, this project is a valuable complement to the Breeding Bird Survey project in Ivvavik National Park, which only surveys birds at inland locations in the Firth River valley.

In 2003, the Canadian Wildlife Service, with support from NatureServe Yukon undertook a Breeding Bird Survey in the Clarence Lagoon area. Information on this study can be found at


Shorebird distributions and the relative importance of different habitats to different shorebird species are poorly understood. This lack of basic ecological data impairs the ability to identify and protect important shorebird habitats. There is little information on the life history or ecological relationships of shorebird species that frequent the North Slope. There is no habitat information for shorebird species that use the interior of Ivvavik National Park.

The Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, led by the Canadian Wildlife Service, emphasizes that all Arctic-breeding shorebirds are at some risk and in need of conservation measures. The report sets priorities for shorebirds across the north.


Shorebirds are managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Government of Yukon and Parks Canada.

Management Jurisdictions
Ivvavik National Park IFA, Migratory Birds Convention, Migratory Birds Regulations Parks Canada Migratory Birds Convention

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network
Nesting, staging, migration
Hershel Island Territorial Park Yukon Wildlife Act YTG Nesting, staging, migration
East of the Babbage River National Parks Act YTG Nesting, staging, migration
Adjoining NWT NWT Wildlife Act GNWT Nesting, staging, migration

Community-based Information

In 2003, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee undertook a project to record traditional knowledge of certain birds and animals on the Yukon North Slope. The observations, comments and concerns expressed by Aklavik residents about Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) as part of this study were as follows:

  • Interviewees looked at the phalaropes in the bird identification book and confirmed the ‘snipes’ they were talking about were Red-necked Phalaropes.
  • Individuals spending time in July near Herschel Island reported lots of ‘snipes’ in similar numbers and habitats as before. One person said there are fewer. Another commented there were ‘thousands’ on Herschel.
  • Individuals in the Shingle area in July gave different reports. Most said there are lower numbers than before, but these birds are still regularly seen. The two oldest people interviewed said numbers were way down compared to years ago. Others said that these birds are common and regularly seen, particularly on the coast west of Shingle.
  • People reported seeing a few groups in the delta and Mackenzie River channels in the summer and during migration time.
  • People interviewed wanted to know why they circled, and how this improved their feeding. (This behaviour stirs up the small invertebrates they eat.)
  • One person thought that the increasing brushiness on the coast would lead to more bugs for the ‘snipes’ to eat.

Community-based information on some shorebirds can also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Donaldson, G., C. Hyslop, R.Morrison, H. Dickson, and I. Davidson, Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, 2000.

Eckert, C.D., 2007. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.

Hawkings, J. 2002. Personal Communication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Whitehorse.

Jingfors, K. 1989. Wildlife of Northern Yukon National Park, Chapter 9 in: Northern Yukon National Park resource description and analysis. Natural Resource Conservation Section, Canadian Parks Service, Prairie and Northern Region, Winnipeg.

Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003.

Sinclair P.H., W.A. Nixon, C.D. Eckert and N.L. Hughes (eds). 2003. Birds of the Yukon Territory. UBC Press Vancouver. 596 pp.

Yukon Bird Club. 2000. Check list of the birds of Herschel Island.