Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

Narrative History

WHSRN was the first hemispheric system of linked reserves to protect important shorebird habitats. Fittingly for a Network concerned about protection of stopover and staging areas, hemispherically important Delaware Bay, U.S.A. was the first site accepted into the Network, nominated by the governors of the states of New Jersey and Delaware. It was dedicated at a ceremony on May 21, 1986.

The original concept for totally protected “sister parks” linking key sites for shorebirds throughout their range sprang from atlas work done by Guy Morrison and Ken Ross of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) that quantified the use of South American “wintering” grounds by shorebirds breeding in Canada, and from International Shorebird Surveys operated out of Manomet (then Manomet Bird Observatory).

Photo Credit: Stuart Mackay

From the beginning, WHSRN governance has consistently been through a voluntary representative Council. The first Council meeting included representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), CWS, the Suriname Forest Service, Manomet, the University of Córdoba, Argentina, and IAFWA. Many of these have been key institutional partners and leaders throughout WHSRN’s history. Many other organizations have also made important contributions, especially at the regional level, both in recruiting and supporting site nominations and in expanded shorebird conservation actions.

WHSRN’s Executive Office has been housed at the following locations over the years, under a variety of names: National Audubon Society (Long Island, New York, USA), Wildlife Habitat Canada (Ottawa); Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Manomet (Massachusetts, USA).

Wetlands for the Americas and Wetlands International
South American scientists and conservationists met in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1991 and produced a WHSRN “Strategic Plan for South America.” Protection of wetlands and natural processes was recognized as vital to shorebird conservation. It became clear that shorebirds alone were not likely to engage the serious attention of managers in Latin American countries, where the conservation of “North American” shorebirds was probably not a high priority.

WHSRN sponsored the launching of Wetlands for the Americas (WA) in July 1993. WA’s broader mission focused on wetlands not only as habitats of importance to waterbirds (broadly defined), but especially as crucial for human societies. WA concentrated on South America.

In 1995, WA joined with International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB) in Europe and the Asian Wetland Bureau in Asia to create the global organization Wetlands International (WI). WHSRN was maintained as a program within the WI structure. But the greatly broadened mission became untenable for WI, and the recognition of continued declines in shorebird populations necessitated a return to the concept of a network of crucially important shorebird sites. In 2000, WHSRN and WI separated, with WHSRN’s Executive Office returning in its entirety to Manomet. Today, the two organizations retain a collaborative relationship.

Expanding and Strengthening the Network

Three key studies in the 1990s identified sites meeting WHSRN’s criteria:

  • “Potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites for migrant shorebirds in Canada” (1991), a CWS Technical Report by Guy Morrison et al. (updated with a second edition in 1995);

  • “Important Shorebird Staging Sites Meeting Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Criteria in the United States” published in 1995 by Harrington and Perry with support from the USFWS and Wildlife Habitat Canada

  • “Identifying Wetlands of Critical Value to Shorebirds in South America,” a report to CWS by Blanco and Canevari published in 1998.

These publications and Morrison and Ross’s 1989 “Atlas of Nearctic shorebirds on the Coast of South America,” though rapidly becoming dated, are still the most thorough summaries of the sites that merit inclusion in WHSRN.

Network partners and site representatives meeting in Ottawa, Canada in 1995 outlined strategic issues and develop action plans. They recognized that national shorebird conservation plans were needed to provide a broad foundation for shorebird action. As a result:

WHSRN hopes to catalyze similar plans that identify conservation priorities and needs of species breeding in the Neotropical region (Central and South America).


In 2011,To invigorate WHSRN and elaborate on a 5-year strategy for making it as powerful as possible, a thorough review of the Network’s mission, conservation vision, and structure was undertaken. The result is here: Strategic Plan 2011-2015.