Shorebird is a general term for a group of birds that includes plovers, snipe, sandpipers, the Red knot and several other species. They begin to make their annual trip through the Arkansas Delta around late July or early August with a migration peak in September.
Most shorebirds have traveled thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic Tundra to refuel in Arkansas before they continue their push to Central and South America. This long distance migration requires a lot of fuel, mainly in the form of small aquatic insects and larvae found in mudflats or shallow water.
Historically, most of the shorebirds in this area used sandbars within the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers for foraging habitat. However, changes in the river’s ecology, due to flood control, have limited the number of sandbars available. The change in available habitat within the river system was offset by the conversion of bottomland hardwood forests to agriculture and aquaculture facilities between the 1950s and 1970s. Today, shorebirds frequent drained fish ponds, rice fields, and the few crop fields that have standing water.
The late summer and early fall is a critical time for shorebirds, as shallow water is hard to find from July to September. This is where producers can help fill a void by installing a water control structure and allowing fields to flood via rainfall after crop harvest. There is also the option of pumping water into the fields from a reservoir or ditch, though capturing rainfall is a more economical approach.
There are several reasons why producers should consider flooding their fields early. The most important reason is that it will reduce the amount of sediments, nutrients and pesticides entering the watershed: a major problem for the Mississippi River Basin. This practice also creates recreational opportunities for landowners or for hunt clubs that lease farms, as blue-winged and green-winged teal will likely utilize these same fields during the September teal season. Local restaurants, hotels, and stores can also benefit from this practice as reliable hotspots that attract shorebirds will in turn attract birdwatchers who mean business for local economies.
Farmers who do not have a water control structure, or would like to pump water on their fields in late summer or fall, can seek funding through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. If a land manager’s EQIP application does not get funded, they should ask their District Conservationist to put them in contact with a Private Lands Biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or the federal Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. They can locate other sources of funds for water control structures or early flooding. According to David Long, AGFC Private Lands Supervisor, “Producers who apply for EQIP funding should seriously consider flooding their fields early for shorebirds. Doing so will get them bonus points on their application and improve their chances of receiving funds for other conservation measures they are hoping to do on the farm.”
For more information on providing shallow water habitat for shorebirds, snipe and teal contact Michael Budd, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Overflow NWR, 3858 HWY 8 East, Parkdale, AR 71661 or firstname.lastname@example.org or David Long, AGFC Private Lands Supervisor at 877-972-5438 or email@example.com.
Image courtesy Arkansas Game and Fish Commission