Shorebird Use of Coastal Wetland and Barrier Island Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf Coast contains some of the most important shorebird habitats in North America. This area encompasses a diverse mixture of estuarine and barrier island habitats with varying amounts of freshwater swamps and marshes, bottomland hardwood forests, and coastal prairie that has been largely altered for rice and crawfish production, temporary ponds, and river floodplain habitat. For the purposes of this review, discussion is confined to general patterns of shorebird abundance, distribution, and macro- and microhabitat use in natural coastal, estuarine, and barrier island habitats on the Gulf of Mexico Coast. The following geographic regions are considered: Northwestern Gulf (Rio Grande to Louisiana-Mississippi border), Northeastern Gulf (Mississippi to Florida Keys), and Mexico (Rio Grande to Cabo Catoche [Yucatan Strait]).Wintering and migrating shorebirds are most abundant along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Tamaulipas, particularly the Laguna Madre ecosystem. Other important areas are the Southwest Coast region of Florida and the area between Laguna Terminos and Puerto Progresso in Mexico. In general, relative abundances of shorebirds increase from north to south, and decrease south of the Tropic of Cancer (23° 27’ N). Based on bimonthly maximum counts within 5° latitudinal bands, the region between 25–30° N is used most heavily by wintering and spring migrating birds.Non-vegetated coastal wetland habitats associated with bays, inlets and lagoons, particularly tidal flats, and sandy beaches are the habitats that appear to be favored by wintering and migrating shorebirds. In general, these habitats tend to occur as habitat complexes that allow for movement between them in relation to tidal flooding of bay-shore habitats. This relationship is particularly important to Piping Plover and may be important to others.Although vegetated habitats are used by some species, they do not appear to attract large numbers of birds. This habitat is most widespread between the Texas-Louisiana border and the Florida Panhandle region, but it has not been studied extensively. Shorebird abundance and habitat use in this area need to be addressed.