Pumicestone passage shorebirds

  1. Identify our shorebirds  
  2. Discover where they live
  3. Understand their needs
  4. Help them to survive

Pumicestone passage

Pumicestone Passage
Pumicestone Passage
Image: T Ford

Pumicestone Passage is a beautiful stretch of water, known nationally and internationally for its environmental significance. This narrow, shallow estuary, with its meandering system of mangrove-fringed channels, sandbanks and islands, separates Bribie Island from the adjacent mainland and is open to the sea at both northern and southern ends.

It commences approximately 50 km north of Brisbane, Queensland, and extends more than 30 km, from the south-western tip of Bribie Island to Caloundra in the north.

The passage is recognised as one of the most important bird and marine habitats on the east coast of Australia and is part of the Moreton Bay Marine Park. There are many different habitat types within and adjoining the passage, including sandbanks, mudflats, mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrass beds.


Shorebirds in flight
Shorebirds in flight
Image: T Collins

Shorebirds describes a varied group of wading birds distributed virtually worldwide.

There are 55 species that occur regularly in Australia, many of them long-distance migrants, and they range in size from the tiny Red-necked Stint to the very large Eastern Curlew.

They generally live in inter-tidal areas or freshwater wetlands, spending most of their time close to water, although some species, such as Masked Lapwings, prefer fields and grasslands.

Approximately one million shorebirds are resident in Australia, with about another two million migrating each year between Australia and their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere.

This is an impressive 20,000-25,000 km round trip and it has recently been discovered that some birds fly for several days without stopping, covering up to 11,000 km. The sight of shorebirds migrating in their characteristic ‘V’ flight formation is a magnificent spectacle.

Pumicestone Passage is home to about 1,500 resident shorebirds of 11 species, and nearly 20,000 migratory shorebirds of 24 species. About 15% of our migratory shorebirds stay for the whole year, being youngsters too young to breed or adults too old to breed or not strong enough to make the journey.

Most migratory shorebirds that choose Pumicestone Passage as their non-breeding grounds are summer visitors and come from breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. The exception is the Double-banded Plover, a winter visitor from New Zealand.

Many shorebirds develop spectacular and colourful plumages prior to breeding. Although in non-breeding plumage for most of their stay in Pumicestone Passage, some migrants may still show evidence of breeding plumage on their spring arrival and some may develop full breeding plumage before their autumn departure.

Brightly coloured underparts feature in courtship while mottled upperparts provide camouflage during nesting. In species where females perform most of the parental duties, they are often duller than the males, but males can be duller in species where this role is reversed.

Resident shorebirds breed locally, nesting in wetlands, grasslands and along coastal shorelines, or move inland to take advantage of the ephemeral wetlands of the interior.

Many shorebirds have wonderful and evocative calls. Those of an Eastern Curlew during the day or a Bush Stone-curlew at dusk are well-known, as is the sound of an Australian Pied Oystercatcher as it flies overhead at night. Another familiar sound is the alarm call of the Masked Lapwing.

Shorebirds that migrate to the Arctic to breed, nest in a wide range of habitats. Breeding takes place when the snows melt and insect life becomes abundant, providing a food source for self-feeding chicks. When the breeding cycle is complete, the adults and young will begin their long journey south.

Young birds normally remain longer on the breeding grounds, increasing their body fat then leaving before the onset of the Arctic winter, arriving in Australia a month or two after the adults. Some will remain here for the next two to four years before joining adults on the return journey north. 

It is still unclear exactly how shorebirds find their way, but it is thought to be a combination of recognition of stars and land features, guidance by the moon and sun, the earth’s magnetic field and perhaps genetic factors.

What is Council doing? 

Moreton Bay Regional Council and Sunshine Coast Regional Council support the Queensland Wader Study Group with regular high tide shorebird monitoring in the Pumicestone Passage.  This ongoing project aims to commit to a minimum of 4 counts per year.

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