Birds of the Manitoba IBAs 2021 Recap!

With the end of the old year, we thought we would highlight some of the exciting birding news from Manitoba IBAs in 2021. If we are missing a highlight for you, let us know!

What is an IBA threshold and why is it important?

You’ll read below that we reached IBA thresholds for species in several different IBAs this summer – but why is this important? There are a series of criteria that bird populations at a site must hit for that site to be qualified as an Important Bird Area. We commonly refer to hitting these criteria thresholds as an “IBA trigger”. If species in the IBA are continuing to reach the IBA trigger, it is likely that the site continues to provide key habitat going forward. There are two main types of IBA triggers that are most commonly used in our Manitoba IBAs. The first is for congregations of species, needing either at least 1% of the global population for the species or at least 1% of the national population for the species. The second trigger is for Species at Risk. Due to the challenges that these species face, they require fewer individuals to reach their IBA trigger. Species at Risk are also classified at either a global scale (IUCN listed species) or regional scale (COSEWIC listed species).

Red-headed Woodpecker

It was an exciting year for this charismatic bird and the IBA program. Thanks to volunteers conducting both formal and informal Red-headed Woodpecker surveys we were able to reach the IBA threshold for this species in two IBAs this summer. The IBA threshold is 14 individuals. At the North, East and West Shoal Lakes IBA (north of Winnipeg near Inwood) volunteers and program staff counted 19 individuals. At the Oak Lake/ Plum Lake IBA (west of Brandon) volunteers and program staff counted a whopping 27 individuals. If you are interested in hearing more about our Red-headed Woodpecker experience this summer watch for the next blog which will go more in-depth with our efforts monitoring this beautiful species during summer 2021.

Red-headed Woodpecker in a nesting cavity at Oak Lake/ Plum Lakes IBA in 2021. Photo by Gillian Richards.

Pectoral Sandpiper

While out doing the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) at Whitewater Lake this spring Gillian Richards counted 12,050 Pectoral Sandpipers while birding along and between ISS routes. Gillian’s sighting was on May 16th. She went back on May 19th and counted 5,652 Pectoral Sandpipers. The number required for the IBA threshold for this species is 625 individuals, so Gillian’s count was well beyond the threshold in both cases! The threshold is approximately 1% of the global and national population for Pectoral Sandpipers, so this observation was approximately 20% of the global population – pretty neat!

Pectoral Sandpipers. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Piping Plover

Piping Plovers were seen twice this year in IBAs. The first sighting was on April 30th at Whitewater Lake by IBA Caretaker Colin Blyth. There was just the one individual seen. When he went back to try and find it two days later it was gone. The other sighting of Piping Plovers was at Chalet Beach at the northwest end of Netley-Libau Marsh IBA. A pair of Plovers was seen over the May-long weekend. However, likely due to the high volume of people using the beach over the weekend the plovers left the area before any conservation work could happen for them.

Piping Plover spotted at Whitewater Lake in spring 2021. Photo by Colin Blyth.

Black-necked Stilt

In the same trip where Colin spotted the Piping Plover at Whitewater Lake (April 30th) he also spotted a Black-necked Stilt – a pretty lucky birding trip! Just like the plover, however, the stilt was no where to be found upon a second birding trip.

Black-necked Stilt spotted at Whitewater Lake in spring 2021. Photo by Colin Blyth.

Sabine’s Gull

A Sabine’s Gull was spotted at Delta Marsh on September 20th, 2021 by Cal Cuthburt. He spotted it flying amongst a mixed flock of Forster’s Terns and Franklin’s Gulls. Great spot!

Photo of a Sabine’s Gull taken in 2020 at Delta Marsh. Photo by Cam Nikkel.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

At least three individual Lesser Black-backed Gulls hung around Delta Marsh IBA this spring/ summer. They were largely seen in the community of Delta Beach and/or around the landfill on provincial road 227.

One of several Lesser Black-backed Gulls seen at Delta Marsh in 2021. This photo is taken of a first summer plumage gull at the landfill. Photo by Cal Cuthbert.


Dickcissels were seen in several IBAs this summer. Including three individuals in the Southwestern Mixed Grass Prairie IBA (on July 1st and 9th), one in Whitewater Lake IBA on June 23rd, and between 1-5 Dickcissels were spotted at Oak Hammock Marsh from July 7th-9th.

A male Dickcissel photographed by Rudolf Koes at Oak Hammock Marsh in summer 2021.

Sandhill Cranes

On October 17th at Oak Lakes/ Plum Lakes IBA, IBA Caretaker Gillian Richards counted 12,000 Sandhill Cranes. The IBA threshold for Sandhill Cranes is 5,300 individuals. Like with the Pectoral Sandpiper, the IBA threshold represents 1% of the global and national population of Sandhill Cranes, so this was approximately 2% of the population seen in this observation.

Not quite the same huge number of cranes spotted by Gillian, but this photo of a flock of Sandhill Cranes taken at Oak Lake shows the habitat that the large flocks will sometimes gather in. The combination of water and wetland habitats with leftovers from cropped fields makes some attractive habitat for flocks of cranes. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Burrowing Owls

Wild Burrowing Owls kept up their streak in southwestern Manitoba this year! A pair of wild Burrowing Owls (i.e. not part of the captive breeding population) successfully nested and raised six young. The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program (MBORP) documented the season. You can read more about it, and see photos, on MBORP’s Facebook page and Walter Potrebka’s blog post.

Hopefully our 2022 birding season is just as successful! The Manitoba IBA program wishes everyone good health, happiness and great birding in 2022!