Shorebirds & Wildlife

Shorebirds & Wildlife

While visiting the park, you may spot any number of wildlife common to this area such as white-tailed deer, moose, raccoon, porcupine, rabbit, red fox, coyote or black bear.

Keep a keen eye out for the endangered peregrine falcon, bald eagles, merlins, osprey, cormorants, eider ducks, the great blue heron and even the occasional horned or barred owl.

Grindstone Island, which can be seen from our upper observation deck, is protected by the Canadian Wildlife Association and is home to one of the largest nesting populations of blue herons in the area.

But our most well-known and mesmerizing visitors are the migrating Bay of Fundy shorebirds.  From mid-July to mid-August, hundreds of thousands of these entertaining winged marvels take to the skies with incredible aerobatics.  The Hopewell Rocks or nearby Mary’s Point Bird Sanctuary are two of the best places to view these small wonders of nature.

Shorebirds

Each summer, for a 4-6 week period beginning in mid-July, 1-2.5 million shorebirds (up to 75% of the world’s population of the Semipalmated Sandpiper) congregate in waves at several key locations in the upper reaches of the bay. The Bay of Fundy is their only stopover on a 4,000 km migration south.

One of the best locations to see the shorebirds is the Hopewell Rocks. Visitors who come during the shorebird migration will be treated to mesmerizing aerobatic displays. Plan to visit at high tide when large flocks of the birds are flying close to shore or resting on the pebble beaches.

During the shorebird migration, beach roosting areas at the Hopewell Rocks are protected and observers are requested to keep their distance, allowing the birds to rest undisturbed. Each time the flocks take to flight during their Bay of Fundy stopover, they deplete the crucial stores of energy needed to successfully complete their migration to South America.

The sheer distance and physical ordeal of this journey re-emphasizes the importance of allowing these birds to feed and rest without disturbance.

The Bay of Fundy is the only stop on a 4,000-km southbound journey these shorebirds make from summer breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter home along the southeast coast of South America, in the Guyanas and Brazil.

The females are the first to leave the Arctic, initiating this yearly migration south. Flocks of males leave next. Amazingly, the season’s newly hatched young are the last to leave the breeding grounds, following a route they have never flown before, perhaps pre-programmed by some inborn instinct.

They all arrive at precise locations on the Bay of Fundy: Hopewell Rocks, Johnson’s Mills and Mary’s Point along the New Brunswick Shore; Starr’s Point and Evangeline Beach on the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia.

Why are these locations special?
A small amphipod, approximately 4-5 mm long, that lives in the Fundy’s salty mud. Known as the mud shrimp, this tiny aquatic crustacean draws hundreds of thousands of shorebirds to the Bay of Fundy each summer.

The Fundy mud and marshlands make a perfect habitat for these small microscopic creatures with the official name of Corophium volutator. It burrows into the mud as the water rises, then as the tide recedes, scurries to the surface to feed on the abundant algae, detritus and diatoms from nearby salt marshes,

On some flats, as many as 10,000-20,000 tiny crustaceans can be found in a square meter of the brown muck; during reproductive cycles, up to 60,000 have been recorded.

These mud shrimp create a highly nutritious feast for the arriving shorebirds, providing them with the necessary energy stores for the southern migration.

The shorebird flocks rest on exposed beaches during high tide. As the tide begins to ebb, they can be observed following the retreating water line, their beaks bobbing like treadle sewing machines as they snap up the tiny creatures emerging from their mud burrows. A single bird can eat 10-20,000 mud shrimp during a single tidal cycle.

Each wave of shorebirds will stay just long enough to double their weight and gain enough energy reserves for the remainder of the journey to South America. Researchers believe the wind and tide influence their time of departure from the Bay of Fundy.

The sheer distance and physical ordeal of this journey re-emphasizes the importance of allowing these birds to feed and rest without disturbance.

During the shorebird migration, beach roosting areas at the Hopewell Rocks are protected and observers are requested to keep their distance, allowing the birds to complete their mission undisturbed. Each time they take to flight during their Bay of Fundy stopover, they deplete the crucial stores of energy needed to successfully complete the journey.

The small delicately patterned and carefully camouflaged birds are often so still in their beach roosting zones that they are mistaken for pebbles and beach rocks. But a careful listener can tune the ear to a chorus of subtle murmuring for which the birds have received the nickname…The Peeps.

If startled or disturbed from rest, the peeps take to the air in a flowing, seemingly choreographed dance…unparalleled in the avian world. Thousands of visitors come every year to witness the exquisite flight of these birds.

Shorebird Species

Shorebird flocks are comprised of 34 different species. The most predominant are:

  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Red Knot
  • White-Rumped Sandpiper
  • Sanderling
  • Dunlin

Additional Information:
Mary’s Point Shorebird Interpretation Centre
Environment Canada
Fundy Shorebirds