The Great Salt Lake’s Importance to Birds

Before this study, data had been collected for individual species that brought to light the local, regional, continental, hemispheric, and world importance of GSL to the species occurring here. For some species, the GSL ecosystem is important for breeding, for others the area is important during migration, and for still others, the lake provides important wintering habitat (Table 1). Some species use the lake for combinations of these reasons.  Implicit in these uses of lake environments, depending on the species, is the need for a place to molt, fatten, court, and stage for migration. Significant numbers of American bald eagles and peregrine falcons forage at the lake on its concentration of waterbirds. Several species of swallows and other passerines exploit the robust populations of brine flies and midges at the lake.

The importance of the GSL to birds is underscored by the levels of local, regional, and national planners that have included the GSL in their scope of concern and conservation action. The GSL is prominently featured in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan and the Intermountain West Regional Shorebird Plan. The GSL ecosystem is also featured in the current planning for the Intermountain West regional and Continental Waterbird Plan. The GSL and associated wetlands have long been recognized by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan as key to the habitat integrity of the Pacific Flyway. The GSL is one of the few ecosystems in western North America that is recognized as a site of hemispheric importance within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Recently, avian values of the GSL were recognized by the GSL Comprehensive Management Plan developed under the auspices of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Currently, a GSL Shorebird Plan is being developed as a tool in lake wide conservation planning for use by the various GSL resource users.

Table 1.  Noteworthy avian resources of the Great Salt Lake:


Population and Status Values

Wilson’s Phalarope

500,000: largest staging concentration in the world (Jehl 1988)

Red-necked Phalarope

240,000: single day estimate (Paul 1982)

American Avocet

250,000: many times higher than any other wetland in the Pacific Flyway (Shuford et al 1995)

Black-necked Stilt

65,000: many times higher than any other wetland in the Pacific Flyway (Shuford et al 1995)

Marbled Godwit

30,000: the only staging area in the interior United States (Shuford et al 1995); 43,000 peak period count (this report)

Snowy Plover

10,000: the world’s largest assemblage, representing 55% of the entire breeding population west of the Rocky Mountains (Paton 1994)

Western Sandpiper

150,000: single day count (this report)

Long-billed Dowitcher

32,000: single day count (Shuford et al 1995)

American White Pelican

20,000 breeding adults: one of the three largest colonies in the western United States (Paul et al 2000a)

White-faced Ibis

21,600 breeding adults: world’s largest breeding population (Paul et al 2000b)

California Gull

160,000 breeding adults: world’s largest staging population in North America (Robinette et al 1993)

Eared Grebe

2,200,000: one of two of the largest staging populations in North America (Neill et al 2006)