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Living in a ‘flyway’ – Busselton an important stop-over for migratory birds

10 May, 2018
Close to Busselton lies a wetland of international importance, where wading birds from Siberia and China, pelicans from northwest Australia and avocets from central Australia congregate to replenish their energy stores.



May 12th is World Migratory Bird Day, a day where Busselton is recognised worldwide, not for its white sandy beaches but as a place that provides significant habitat for migratory birds.

Just east of Busselton are the Vasse Wonnerup wetlands, recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention for importance to waterbirds in 1990. Over 37, 000 waterbirds have been recorded using the wetlands on a single day. These wetlands are one of 22 countries that are ‘stop-over’ sites on the East Asian-Australasian flyway, a route that shorebirds travel along in their annual migration. Nineteen species of migratory shorebirds are known to stop-over in the wetlands in the summer months to feed in the receding shallow waters and mudflats of the wetlands. The most abundant migratory waders are the Curlew Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and the Red necked Stint. The wetlands provide these birds with the abundant food in preparation for a journey of 10 000km or more to breeding grounds in Siberia and northern China.

The wetlands also provide important feeding and breeding habitat for other local and regionally important birds, including Australian wading birds, ducks, grebes, Black swans and birds of prey, many of which are local residents throughout the year.

Understanding these birds and their habitat requirements will help us to manage and protect these waterbirds for future generations and help us to retain the Ramsar status of this internationally significant wetland. Monthly counts of these waterbirds are being carried out by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and regular monitoring of water quality and food sources is being carried out by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and Murdoch University as part of the Revitalising Geographe Waterways Program.

There are several bird hides set up around the wetlands where, in the right season you can observe these birds in their natural habitat. Where to watch waterbirds on the Vasse Wonnerup wetlands can guide you in this pursuit and is available at

What is World Migratory Bird Day?

Launched in 2006 world migratory bird day is a global campaign to raise awareness about the need to protect migratory birds and their habitats. This special day is held bi-annually on the second weekend of May and October.

Below: The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) forages in the Vasse Wonnerup wetlands, sweeping its bill from side to side and picking up insects and invertebrates from the water surface. This bird will often follow ducks in the wetland eating disturbed bugs.

Photo: Mark Oliver