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Activity 4: Shorebirds Case Study

Activity Description

The purpose of this and the second case study is to introduce students to 2 local wildlife management issues and allow the students to discuss the management options and the community values and opinions.  Even a challenge as seemingly simple as protecting a tiny bird’s eggs can get complex and untenable in the real world of property values and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). 

This first case study discusses the numerous species of waterbirds that inhabit NYC and nearby Long Island.  These birds were largely extirpated from the area decades ago due to pollution, but are now making a comeback.  There are still many ecological problems that affect the birds (pollution still has an effect) and in some cases the birds come into conflict with stakeholder interests.

The lessons consist primarily of discussion, but depending on your class you can incorporate more involved research papers or mock meetings as ways to simulate what it means to interact with government and the public as a wildlife professional.


Estimated Time of Activity 1.5 - 3 hours depending on how long you wish the discussion to be


Activity Objectives

Students will be able do the following as a result of the activity:

1. Be familiar with the life histories of a number of the local shorebird and wading bird species in NYC

2. Understand the human dimensions issue regarding the shorebird and wading bird populations in the NYC area

3. Argue their opinions and provide general management recommendations regarding waterbird conservation in NYC

Activity Prerequisites

The previous lessons on wildlife value sets up the studens to think about the two case studies.  However, most students can still follow the point of this lesson with just a quick introduction.

Activity Instructions

1. Students should read the first article “Harbor Herons in New York: New York City Audubon Monitors Wading Birds on Harbor Islands” for homework, and outline it so they can come to class with a general knowledge of the waterbirds of NYC.  Students can also choose a species mentioned in the article and fill out Field Guide sheets for each of them.  Some time should be used in class to ensure all of the students have a basic handle of the current state of the wading birds of NYC.

2. The next articles should be read by students in groups where they read each together and discuss their thoughts on each.  The article document also contains Shorebird and wading bird management discussion questions that each group should answer.  The class can then come back together and discuss their answers.  In particular the teacher should address the fact that these birds nest in NYC but live south of here during the winter, and similarly, the wading birds nest on the NYC islands but often forage in places far away from their nests on Long Island and the Jersey Shore.  What do these life history facts mean in terms of management?  At what scale do managers need to coordinate their efforts?  (For example, if NYC reduced their levels of water pollution or protected more land, would this help the egrets who nest here – but forage in NJ?). 

Remember, the birds nest on island in open water but in most cases require salt marsh or vegetated beaches to forage.  What happened to NYC’s salt marshes?


Most of the assessment will come from the students' participation in the discussions.  A formal assignment is given below as well.


As formal assessment, students can write a short essay explaining the problem and what they as a manger would recommend, or they can take on a more involved group project and generate a more detailed management plan.  Generally, I prefer to grade based more on discussion participation, but you may prefer written projects.


Powerpoint (link coming soon)

Shorebird articles (.pdf of them all)