Shorebird Diet and Prey Availability during Spring Migration in an Urban Estuary

Emily Michelle Casper, Fordham University


Stopover and staging sites provide critical opportunities for migrating shorebirds to rapidly regain body mass and replenish fat reserves so that they can complete their migrations successfully. While current shorebird conservation efforts emphasize the identification and management of high-quality stopover and staging sites, little is known about the quality of urban staging areas. This study is the first to use two complementary approaches to investigate both prey availability and shorebird diet at a migration staging site. In addition, this study is the first to investigate the quality of an urban staging site to migrating shorebirds. Here, I explore the quality of Jamaica Bay, an 18,000–acre urban estuarine staging site located in New York City, during 2018 spring shorebird migration. I utilized benthic core sampling methods to determine what macroinvertebrate prey items were readily accessible to foraging shorebirds and fecal DNA metabarcoding techniques to reconstruct the diet of two shorebird species: Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidrus pusilla) and Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus). The combined results of both approaches suggest that spring migrating shorebirds in Jamaica Bay consume a broader diet than expected based on benthic core samples alone, and that horseshoe crab eggs are a significant component of shorebird diet, particularly for Semipalmated Sandpipers. Furthermore, my findings provide evidence for species-specific food selection as well as the exploitation of multiple habitat types by foraging shorebirds within Jamaica Bay. This study provides preliminary evidence that urban staging sites can provide valuable resources to migrating shorebirds and warrant protection and management.

Subject Area

Ecology|Conservation biology

Recommended Citation

Casper, Emily Michelle, "Shorebird Diet and Prey Availability during Spring Migration in an Urban Estuary" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27737403.