The Migratory Shorebird Project

Tiempo de lectura | Reading time: 9 minutos

By Eduardo Palacios and Lucía Alfaro

For the past 10 years, shorebirds and their habitats have been monitored in northwestern Mexico through the Migratory Shorebird Project. 

Monitoring is a critical component of any conservation project as it allows us to measure changes in the number and status of waterfowl at each site, the habitat status, threats and evaluate the success of management actions. To this end, the most extensive shorebird monitoring program in Mexico was developed and will celebrate its first 10 years in 2021.

Terra Peninsular, with the support of CICESE La Paz Unit, coordinates this monitoring effort at 22 priority sites in Mexico. Since most shorebirds are migratory species and therefore are natural resources shared among several countries, their conservation requires international cooperation and coordinated efforts among the countries of the continent. For this reason, shorebirds and their habitats are also monitored at important sites in the 13 countries of the Pacific Flyway, stretching from Alaska to Chile. 

Each year in mid-winter, more than 50 volunteers from 20 participating institutions conduct fixed-plot bird counts at each wetland and document habitat conditions, human disturbance, birds of prey presence, and weather conditions. 

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention, which promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands of international importance, especially as habitat for waterfowl. Many of the 142 wetlands in México that are considered Ramsar sites are located in northwestern Mexico and are part of this project.

This year, in the priority sites of the Baja California peninsula, there were more than 80,000 shorebirds, of which the marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa) and the western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) were the most abundant species. Human activities have increased significantly in most wetlands and could impact shorebirds and their habitats.

Data from biological monitoring and habitat conditions are compiled in a database called CADC and are available to the public through this two applications:


An unseen aspect of the project, perhaps, is that it functions as a youth platform for those interested in birds. Nevertheless, anyone can participate, no matter their level of knowledge regarding birds; everyone is welcome. 

The bait, so to speak, is that the project is presented as an opportunity to visit incredible places and at the same time help. However, what these young volunteers don’t know is that they are trained in such a subtle way that even they don’t realize it. At the end of the tour, affectionately known as Gorditour, they either love birds or they realize that it is not their thing.

This shorebird monitoring program is very friendly, and the expertise of the leaders is crucial. During the trip, camaraderie is fostered among participants and tolerance is tested; knowledge of counting techniques, the use of telescopes and binoculars, bird identification, field data collection, the use of GPS, etc., is acquired or refined. 

For volunteers, this experience opens a new perspective regarding the study of shorebirds and at the same time is a rewarding life experience, as it is not just about counting birds but also about meeting people at each site, interacting with them and receiving their support for the proper development of the trip. Volunteers can observe firsthand the problems shorebirds face, not only with respect to the natural environment, but the social problems associated with the sites where they rest or feed, and at the same time come up with ideas or questions on how to address these problems with the data they collect.

At the end of the trip, volunteers discover two things that are very important: that they have valuable human potential and that the study of birds is a good line for their future professional development. Regarding the latter, the talks with the lead researchers during the trip to the sampling units or over dinner are crucial since the atmosphere is so relaxed that you can ask anything with the assurance that you will be answered in a respectful and sometimes creative way.


The Migratory Shorebird Project has left us with several lessons and some of the participants have expressed this:

“The project allowed me to gain experience in different stages of the research process, starting with the identification of bird species and the collection, organization and analysis of data. At the same time, it allowed me to understand the habitat changes that occur year after year in each place where the censuses are carried out, and to understand the importance of the people who live in these communities, because they are the ones who have empirical but important knowledge when trying to interpret the causes of these changes.”

Estefanía Muñoz Salas, CICESE graduate student

“The monitoring seasons have helped me to appreciate the bonds that have been built with people from different localities in the Baja California peninsula, an effort that is fundamental for the continuation of the project.  I reflect on the potential that building healthy human relationships has on the transmission of ideas, generation of actions and possible changes.” 

Abril Heredia, Project Coordinator.

“I have had the opportunity and the honor of participating in this project for 4 years, which has allowed me to get to know wonderful places that are home to many species of flora and fauna; every time I visit one of these places again it is as if it were the first time, because it never ceases to amaze me how majestic nature is. Another thing that has marked me during these trips is to meet people who feel the same passion for the study of birds and show a great impetus to do their work. They are my example to follow”.

Daniela Gámez, UABCS master’s student

“The project has taken me to see extremely beautiful places, not only for the scenery, but also for the people and food in each place. Visiting specific monitoring zones year after year has made it possible for me to observe the constant change of the coastal zones. In addition, I have been able to see how the disturbance that each year brings with it and that will keep increasing directly influences shorebirds. However, it is even more incredible how it is that local people, researchers, private, national, international and federal associations make a great effort to continue conserving these wonders that nature gives us.”

Luis Jauregui, UABCS Marine Biology

“I consider myself lucky, as I have been fortunate to participate in each of the 10 editions in various sites in northwestern Mexico, especially in the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve in Nayarit. Thanks to this, I have been able to learn about shorebirds, their habitat, and the main threats they face. It has allowed me to meet wonderful people in each of the locations we visit and get to know their relationship with the birds and the environment. This interaction is enriching, since we not only add birds in forms, we also add wills in each place we visit, and I think that is the most valuable thing.”

Jonathan Vargas, Cornell Lab of Ornithology Coastal Solutions Fellow

About the authors

  • Eduardo Palacios is a researcher at CICESE and board member of Terra Peninsular.
  • Lucía Alfaro is the Database Coordinator of the Migratory Shorebird project. 

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