A paper recently published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology brings new meaning to the name Bird’s Foot Delta.


Clapper Rail Photo: Melanie/Flickr Creative Commons

A paper recently published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology brings new meaning to the name Bird's Foot Delta.

PC's coalition partners, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, authored the new study on the regional, national, and international importance of bird populations and their habitat in Coastal Louisiana.

Coastal marshes in the state offer shelter to breeding, migratory, and wintering birds, hosting up to two-thirds of the regional and global abundance of some species.

Authors of the new study suggest that the "richness and abundance of birds" found in the coastal marshes of Louisiana "is matched nowhere in the United States." In fact, for several birds listed as Louisiana Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SPGCN), the majority or close to half of their regional breeding populations reside in Louisiana.

Breeding Populations in Louisiana

Brown Pelican: 33% of the breeding population of the eastern United States and 47% of the population in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Sandwich Tern: 73% of the breeding population of the nation and 83% if the Northern Gulf of Mexico population

Clapper Rail: 38% of the breeding population in the eastern United States and 70% more individuals than any other state

In particular, the study found that Louisiana supports "globally important populations" of the clapper rail and cites "relatively large and continuous" coastal marshland as the reason. The study also identifies the state's barrier islands as a vital resource for birds because they provide the only suitable nesting habitat for several species. Additionally, barrier islands and coastal marshes are critical stopovers for migratory birds.


Researchers advise that the conservation of Louisiana's deltaic system is crucial for these bird species. But beyond wildlife, the need for rebuilding and maintaining Louisiana's marshes and islands is high for low lying communities subject to coastal flooding. The Mulitple Lines of Defense Strategy recognizes marshes and barrier islands as the first lines of defense against hurricane storm surge.


Despite the coast's significance as habitat and a buffer, the authors point out that this environment is subject to severe natural and anthropogenic threats. Besides subsidence, sea-level rise, and erosion, industry envelops the delta. In the same area where major international shipping traffic passes and oil spills have sullied the coast, some of the most important bird populations in the nation are living.


Ultimately, the authors suggest that state and national leadership employ long-term monitoring and dynamic management to sustain Louisiana's birdlife. To that end, they emphasize that local and federal agencies "must recognize their tremendous responsibility for managing these species."

You can read the full paper here. 

Or learn more about the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy that Pontchartrain Conservancy put forward as the leading approach for improving hurricane surge protection.