Shorebirds of Brisbane

Shorebirds, also known as waders, gather in large numbers on Australian coastal and inland wetlands. Shorebirds generally have long legs in relation to their body size, no webbing on their feet and they don't swim.

Some features that make shorebirds different to one another include their nesting habits, beak types, food and whether they are migratory or residential.

Regardless of the time of the day, shorebirds feed according to the tide, using their long beaks to dig for worms, insects and crustaceans. Their bills are specialised and variable depending on where they feed such as along the shore line or along the beach, in wetlands or around rocky headlands.  

For more information, visit the Queensland Wader Study Group website.

Residential and migratory shorebirds

Residential shorebirds are those that already live here in Australia. There are already thousands of residential shorebirds within the Moreton Bay region.

Migratory shorebirds visiting Australia come from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere countries such as Siberia, Korea, China or Japan. Migratory shorebirds travel along the East Asian-Australasian flyway and when they arrive in Brisbane, many will have travelled 13,000 kilometres. Approximately two million shorebirds visit Australia between September and April, with over 40,000 arriving in Moreton Bay each year.

The largest shorebird, the Eastern Curlew, weighs up to 900 grams and flies from Russia. The smallest migratory bird, the Red-Necked Stint, weighs up to 30 grams and migrates between Siberia and Australia each year.

Shorebirds:

  • make up about 10 per cent of Australia's species of birds
  • travel distances of up to 25,000 kilometres each year
  • are able to sleep by allowing one side of the brain to shut down while flying.

To protect migratory shorebirds, Brisbane City Council and the City of Narashino, Japan have signed the Narashino agreement.

Shorebirds feeding and roost sites

32 species out of 42 international migratory shorebirds visit the Moreton Bay region. This site provides vitally important feeding and resting grounds to both residential and migratory shorebirds.

The Boondall Wetlands are part of the chain of coastal wetlands associated with Moreton Bay listed under the international treaty Ramsar Convention as internationally important wetlands. The Ramsar Convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Through the agreement of Ramsar Convention, Australia has agreed to protect both residential and migratory shorebirds. 

Help protect these birds

To protect shorebirds in Moreton Bay region you can help by:

  • ensuring you and your pet doesn't disturb birds
  • taking rubbish home with you
  • reducing speed limits on boats
  • reducing four wheel driving on beaches and near shorebirds nest sites.

Council is investigating options for designated dog off-leash areas within the Brisbane foreshore to improve environmental outcomes and shorebird protection, as well as create recreational opportunities for dog-owners along popular foreshore areas.

For more information, visit the Foreshore Dog Off-Leash Areas in Brisbane page.

Photo gallery

View the Boondall Wetlands Shorebirds photo gallery below or view the photos individually in the Boondall Wetlands Shorebirds set in Council's Flickr account.

Australasian Darter

Sharing Shorelines film

This movie, presented by Pip Russel, explores the importance of Brisbane's coastal areas as a habitat for shorebirds. It was made in partnership with many organisations, in particular the students from Earnshaw College who helped with the filming.

Video transcript

Read the transcript for the Sharing Shorelines film presented by Pip Russel.

Pip Russel: Sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by 4 large barrier sand islands, Moreton Bay contains an extensive area of tidal wetlands, consisting of intertidal sand and mudflats, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, salt flats and salt marshes.

This extensive intertidal area supports a diverse range of rare, vulnerable and endangered species, including 42 species of shorebirds. Up to 50 000 individual shorebirds migrate here every year. So, what is a shorebird?

Andrew Geering: Shorebirds are a group of birds that live along the, the coastline. They have long legs and pointy wings and long, long bills adaptations to feeding in the mudflats around here and also for a highly migratory lifestyle. Overall, they comprise about 10% of the total number of species found in Australia so they’re a very significant component of our, our aviary corner. Not all birds that, um, feed on the shorelines are classified as being shorebirds, and their closest relatives are birds like gulls and terns.

Pip Russel: While it’s easy to spot gulls and terns in the bay, migratory shorebirds are a lot more timid and harder to see in their environment. In fact, most people don’t even know they’re there until they frighten them into flying away.

The East Asian Australasian Flyway is the outline of the many parts that migratory shorebirds take on their journey. The majority of migratory shorebirds that use Moreton Bay travel here from breeding sites in the Northern Hemisphere. This path has been recognized internationally as one of the world’s most important flyways.

Many staging points for shorebirds along the East Asian Australasian Flyway are being threatened by human development. Our flyway is the most human populated flyway with the fastest economically developing countries in the world. The rapid rate of industrialisation has meant the erasure of many wetlands along the flyway, by pollution, excess sediments and nutrients in the catchments, or by building over them.

Without healthy feeding and roosting sites and the peace to use them in, shorebirds are unable to rest and eat. These healthy stopovers with productive wetlands and roosting sites can mean the difference between life and death. So, what exactly are wetlands?

Earnshaw State College student: Wetlands are places where the water meets the earth. Like, for example, lakes, swamps, estuaries, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, reefs and salt marshes.

Pip Russel: Wetlands are so important to life that in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, representatives of 18 nations, including Australia, signed The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance to stop the loss of wetlands across the world and conserve and manage remaining wetlands.

The Moreton Bay Ramsar site listed in 1993 covers over 113 thousand hectares and includes large sections of the bay and surrounding barrier sand islands.

In addition to Ramsar, Australia has increased protection of shorebirds by signing migratory bird agreements with flyway partners. They protect birds from disturbance and hunting, and also preserve their breeding, feeding and resting sites from reduction and destruction.

You may not be able to see it from the shore but under the intertidal waters, the wetlands of Moreton Bay support an ecosystem rich in marine worms, molluscs and crustaceans that burrow or crawl along the surface. An excellent feeding ground for shorebirds.

These Bar-tailed Godwits will sometimes submerge their bills all the way up to their face in the water when probing for prey. Their sharp bills and long legs allow them to be very successful feeders.

Earnshaw State College student: Small birds like the Red-necked Stint come running across the sandbanks around this area. They use their beaks to get, dig down into the sand and peck at some empty pods that they eat.

Pip Russel: The Red-necked Stint, which breeds mainly in far Northern Russia and Siberia, is the smallest shorebird to visit Australia. While it weighs about as much as this chocolate bar, which is only 25 grams, it undertakes one of nature’s most incredible journeys, a flight of over 12 000 kilometres, stopping briefly at staging points along the flyway. In a lifetime, its tiny body will carry it over 400 000 kilometres, which, believe it or not, is further than the distance from Earth to the Moon.

Andrew Geering: They will lose nearly half of their body weight, um, through migration so you can imagine, um, that by the time they reach here, they’re pretty starved. Birds are driven by the tide cycles not by day and night. At high tide they will move off their low tide feeding grounds and they’ll congregate in sites like here to rest for about 3 or 4 hours.

Pip Russel: As the Australian winter nears, migratory shorebirds rapidly store reserves of fat as their internal cues prompt them to get ready to travel back to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. So, how do we find out which birds travel to what countries and how do we find out the number of shorebirds in Moreton Bay over the summer?

Andrew Geering: The Queensland Wader Study Group has a count program; a whole lot of people will go to different sites around, around Moreton Bay and also different places along the Queensland coast. And we try and do a simultaneous count of all the shorebirds.

Pip Russel: As part of reassuring that shorebirds have a safe place to rest in Moreton Bay, a number of artificial roosts have been constructed. These constructed sites complement the natural roosting areas in the region. The largest of the artificial roosts has been developed by the Port of Brisbane. The constructed roost will provide a permanent roosting site for the future.

Scott McKinnon: We’ve developed a shorebird management plan that guides the management of both, the constructed bird roost and other shorebird roosting areas around the port. As part of that management plan, we undertake monthly shorebird counts in conjunction with the Queensland Wader Study Group, and the data that we collect guides some of our management of shorebirds at the port here, and we also make that data available for other shorebird management agencies, both locally, nationally and internationally.

Jennifer Singfield: It is essential that we in the international community who live along their flyway all work together. Brisbane City Council and Narashino Council have been involved in the Wetlands Affiliation Agreement for the past ten years. This agreement concentrates on research, conservation, education and community awareness.

Pip Russel: As Queenslanders, we love our beaches and wetlands. Swimming, sunbaking, canoeing, bike riding and fishing are only some of the activities we love to do in the same areas that shorebirds depend upon. Humans, dogs, vehicles and vessels can disturb the shorebirds, causing them to take flight and waste precious energy reserves.

John Esdaile: Disturbing shorebirds is an offense anywhere in Moreton Bay Marine Park. Sandbars still exposed at high tide, like this one, can provide prime habitat for shorebirds so if you’re out boating or fishing, driving on the beach or simply going for a stroll along the foreshore, keep a look out and give the birds a wide berth.

Melissa Cooper: When visiting these magnificent shorelines, these mudflats and sand flats, it’s very important to keep your dog leashed. You don’t want them chasing the birds. Admire these magnificent birds from a distance.

Pip Russel: When enjoying the beaches and wetlands throughout Moreton Bay, it’s important to remember that we are sharing these areas with other animals, who depend on the shores to survive.

We are incredibly lucky to live in such a diverse, temperate and unique city so close to internationally recognised areas. These natural sites are home to so much life and unspoiled beauty, and they need our protection because once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. So we can act now to preserve the biodiversity of our bays and city that provide the habitats for our shorebirds.

Shorebird habitats

To find out where you can find these shorebirds in Brisbane, view the wetlands and parklands track maps for:

Last updated: 20 October 2020