The beaches and mudflats around Tofino host globally significant numbers of western sandpipers (Calidris mauri) and large numbers of other shorebirds during both spring and fall migration. Collectively, these habitats are protected by several partially overlapping management units including the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area, the Tofino Mudflats Important Bird Area, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada. The areas of mudflat habitat (officially the Tofino Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-is Mudflats) were declared a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of regional importance in 2013.

In addition to attracting large numbers of birds, Tofino is also an increasingly popular tourist destination. An estimated 1.2 million people per year visit the area, 96% of which report spending time on the beaches. The disturbance caused by the near-continuous presence of humans (and their dogs) has been shown to affect the behaviour of shorebirds in this area, ultimately resulting in reduced foraging rates. Furthermore, while large numbers of shorebirds move between the beaches and mudflats in the region, possibly in part as a response to greater disturbance on the beaches, it is not entirely clear what the relative importance of these two habitats are, nor to what extent disturbance in each habitat may be a factor affecting adult survival.

To clarify the patterns of residency and habitat use of shorebirds in the Tofino area during both spring and fall migration, we are tracking about 50 individual birds of three species (western sandpiper, sanderling, semipalmated plover) during each season using VHF radio transmitters. Data on individual movement patterns and residency is expected to predict the average length of stay in the area, as well as the proportion of time spent in beach vs. mudflat habitat. We expect to be able to integrate this data into ongoing studies examining the direct effects of human disturbance in key areas of beach habitat. Ultimately, this proposed research has three main goals: 1) Determine average residency during spring and fall migration period; 2) Determine the proportion of time each species spends in either mudflat or beach habitats; 3) Provide data with which to infer to what extent disturbance in beach habitats may prompt birds to move to mudflats.