Over the past 50 years, shorebird populations have been declining sharply, mainly due to climate change and shoreline urbanization. Among the crucial habitats of these species are the shores of the St. Lawrence estuary, which are especially busy during fall migration. Yves Turcotte, a teacher in the Department of Biological Sciences and Techniques at Cégep de La Pocatière, has been investigating the fate of the Semipalmated Sandpiper, the most abundant shorebird species in this area, for several years.
Most of these Semipalmated Sandpiper were born the previous summer in Arctic and sub-Arctic areas. Until recently, little was known about the significance of this stay (duration and acquisition of energy reserves) for these shorebirds seeking to migrate to northeastern South America in the fall. To address this lack of knowledge, the researcher and his team captured 160 juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers in the Kamouraska region and fitted them with nano-transmitters. To continuously monitor the birds, eight automated telemetry stations integrated into the international Motus network were set up from Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies to L’Isle-Verte, along 140 kilometres of shoreline.
It appears that the St. Lawrence River estuary is a key stage in the fall migration of young Semipalmated Sandpipers. After a stay of about three weeks on the Kamouraska mudflats, they have increased their body mass by more than 30%, enough to allow them to continue their journey well beyond their next destination, the Atlantic coast, primarily along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. These results, which in theory can be generalized to other shorebird species, argue for the protection of this ecosystem and the implementation of local conservation measures.