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Why Birds Need Wetlands

The month of May is American Wetlands Month, and there is no better way to celebrate than recognizing wetlands' importance to wildlife! Approximately one-third of North American bird species use wetlands, and many rely on them for their survival. Of the 1,900 bird species that breed in the United States, approximately 138 are wetland-dependent. The level of dependence that birds have on wetlands can vary by species. Some only require the presence of wetlands during migratory and breeding seasons, while others rely on wetlands year-round. Each species of wetland-dependent bird has a unique set of needs that wetland habitats fulfill. Below are but a few examples of the important relationships which birds have with wetland ecosystems:

Wetlands are Links in Migratory Chains

Wetland ecosystems provide important stopover sites and resting areas for migratory birds. Each wetland ecosystem is included within a long chain of other stopover sites creating what is known as a flyway. The Rosewood Nature Study Area is a stopover site along the Pacific Flyway which spans north-south from Northern Alaska to South America. Each wetland within a flyway is an important link in a chain that is a bird's migratory journey. If one of these wetlands or chain links is destroyed, then the connection between these areas would be lost. This could have serious consequences for bird populations and the success of their yearly journey. Among the wetland-dependent migratory birds that utilize the Rosewood Nature Study Area is the American White Pelican. This charismatic species can be seen foraging in the deep sloughs within the nature study area, replenishing their energy before continuing on to breeding habitats within the United States.

Wetlands Provide Food for a Variety of Species

In addition to providing areas in which migratory birds may rest along their journeys, wetlands provide habitat for foraging. Wetlands provide food for birds in the form of plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates. Shorebirds, such as Black-necked Stilts and Greater Yellow-legs, can be seen probing through shallow pools for invertebrates in the damp soil. Dabbling duck species, such as Mallards and Cinnamon Teal, rely on submerged plants and the invertebrates that live on them as food sources. The Canada Goose is another species that can be seen dabbling in shallow water and grazing on the banks of waterways.

Wetlands are Safe Spaces to Nest and Raise Young

From under the cover of dense vegetation, the vocalizations of marsh-nesting songbird species, such as Marsh Wren and Red-winged Blackbird, can be heard. The singing individual often remains hidden to the observer, shrouded behind thick vegetation. Patches of cattail and other emergent vegetation can be seen lining water bodies, acting as nearly impenetrable zones of habitat for birds to nest or shelter. These zones provide barriers that can prevent land-based predators from accessing eggs or young nestlings.

A red-winged Blackbird perched atop Rubber Rabbitbrush, a native plant species found throughout the Rosewood Nature Study Area.

The past two centuries have brought many changes, drastically reducing the amount of wetland habitat available to birds. The loss of wetlands worldwide has resulted in an estimated 20% of wetland-dependent bird species becoming either threatened or extinct. The conversion of land across the Western United States has drastically altered the landscape from its original condition. Within Nevada, wetlands cover less than 1% of the state and more than one-half of the state's original wetlands have been lost. As a way to mitigate this loss, the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation is striving to restore the Rosewood Nature Study Area back to a healthy, functioning wetland. Doing so will increase the amount of habitat available to the wetland-dependent birds within the Truckee Meadows area, ultimately contributing to their long-term conservation.

Literature Cited:

“Canada Goose Life History”. All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019.

“Foraging and Flocking: The Black-necked Stilt” All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2011.

Kahara, S. N., Duffy, W. G., DiGaudio, R., & Records, R. Climate, Management and Habitat Associations of Avian Fauna in Restored Wetlands of California’s Central Valley, USA. Diversity 2012 Pg 396-418.

Kusler, Jon. “Common Questions: Wetland Conservation and the Protection of Migratory Birds”. The International Institute for Wetland Science and Public Policy. Association of State Wetland Managers, Inc.

“Mallard Life History”. All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019.

“Marsh Wren Life History”. All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2019. The state of the birds. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Interior.

Stewart, Robert. “Technical Aspects of Wetlands: Wetlands as Bird Habitat” National Water Summary on Wetland Resources. United States Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 2425.

USGS. 2016. National Water Summary on Wetland Resources. Wetlands as Bird Habitat. Retrieved May 20, 2021.

USGS. 1997, March 7. State summary highlights. Retrieved April 5, 2021, https://water.usgs. gov/nwsum/WSP2425/state_highlights_summary.html#:~: text=Wetlands%20cover%20less%20than%201,and%20fish%20and%20wild life%20habitat.

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