Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey
Five-Year Report (1997-2001)


The discovery of the GSL by Jim Bridger in 1824, as he explored the Bear River Delta, introduced European man to the lake’s abundant waterbird resources (Miller 1980). Since that time, valley residence interests in GSL bird life changed from the eclectic practices of egg collection, guano harvest and market shooting to contemporary scientific investigation. With increasing human populations in the GSL valley came an elevated awareness in GSL bird life. It was difficult to ignore the extent and richness of waterbird presence. The establishment of numerous duck clubs within the delta complexes of the Jordan, Weber, and Bear river systems is evidence of the abundant migratory waterfowl moving through the lake’s wetlands. The creation of State and Federal wildlife management areas followed on the heels of duck club development. These areas were originally established to enhance, protect, and manage waterfowl habitat. Currently, there are nine wildlife management areas including eight State areas and one, large Federal wildlife area. Over time each management system has carried out a variety of primarily independent bird surveys to assess use at individual complexes.

In addition to curiosity in migratory birds, some valley resident academics, visiting scientists, and hobbyists have developed an interest in GSL breeding bird populations, especially colonial species. The most prominent figure emerging from a colorful history of GSL bird study is William H. Behle, who over the course of several decades studied California gulls, American white pelicans and other breeding colonial species (Behle 1958).

Behle’s systematic survey of some colonial nesting populations, the State of Utah’s fall waterfowl aerial surveys, and some limited but intensive species and suite population surveys have contributed to the collective avian knowledge. Many of these early surveys have made significant contributions to the present knowledge of the GSL’s importance to continental migratory bird populations. These include American white pelican (Behle 1958, Knopf 1975, Paul et al 2000a), tundra swan, cinnamon teal, ruddy duck, redhead, pintail ducks (UDWR unpublished reports), white-faced ibis (Paul and Manning 2000, 2001a; Ivey 2001), snowy plover, American avocet and black-necked stilt (Shuford et al. 1995, Paton 1994), Wilson’s and red-necked phalaropes and eared grebes (Jehl 1988, Paul et al. 1999, 2000c). Even so, until now there has not been a comprehensive survey of all waterbird use in all habitat types conducted within the GSL ecosystem during the same time frame.