The Stillaguamish Tribe is working with partners to improve avian monitoring to better understand how estuary restoration affects birds.

“Our goal is to address a suite of bird-related questions across various scales of space and time, such as Pacific Flyway population level trends and response to restoration,” said Amanda Summers, wildlife biologist for the Stillaguamish Tribe. “At present we are lacking comparable methodology.”

Current avian monitoring in Puget Sound estuaries consists of independent programs that apply different survey designs, protocols and objectives. Pre- and post-restoration monitoring is inconsistent.

This lack of regional coordination limits managers’ ability to respond to environmental change and prevents avian needs from being included in estuary restoration planning.

The tribe is part of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program Marine Birds Workgroup, which is working to develop a regional avian monitoring framework. Improving habitat models will help restoration managers consider the impact of management decisions on birds, reduce human conflict and invest strategically in bird conservation.

The workgroup, which also includes the National Audubon Society, Ecostudies Institute and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, modeled habitat for five species of birds representing niches in Puget Sound estuaries: brant, dunlin, greater yellowlegs, marsh wren and northern pintail. They used data collected by tribal, state, federal and nongovernmental partners, as well as community science data.

The group has created a storymap about the avian model.

“Our wildlife program is specifically interested in understanding how salmon-centric estuary restoration might be impacting birds,” Summers said. “Given that restoration funding and design in the Northwest is driven by salmon recovery, we hope to identify co-benefit restoration practices, as well as make estuary restoration recommendations that further improve the bird habitat.”

“This is especially important now with the tribe’s recent acquisitions of lowland agricultural properties,” said Jennifer Sevigny, wildlife program manager for the Stillaguamish Tribe. “We hope to use our monitoring results to inform restoration planning for the benefit of fish and wildlife.”

Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea support more than 70 species of marine and shorebirds. Three estuaries are recognized as sites of significant importance for migratory shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, including the Skagit and Stillaguamish deltas. Dozens of Important Bird Areas have been designated within the Salish Sea, where migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey congregate in significant numbers.

Northern pintails are one of five species being modeled to learn more about how estuary restoration affects birds. Photo: Bill Hebner, Stillaguamish Tribe.