Breeding Shorebird Atlas

Every atlas project is a gigantic and ambitious task for the organising bodies, even on a smaller scale. The brand new Breeding Shorebird Atlas program is no different, but it runs on a global scale. In the past few decades, numerous atlas projects have emerged covering all the bird species at a national or continental level. They delivered extraordinary value to bird conservation, especially those, which cover multi-decades.

The Breeding Shorebird Atlas aims:

  • mapping the breeding distribution, abundance and threats of all shorebird species of the world;

  • creating a solid shorebird database for breeding shorebirds to be useable for future phases of the atlas;

  • modelling and predicting shorebird movements for proactive shorebird habitat conservation and habitat creation/reconstruction;

  • organising expeditionary surveys in poorly covered areas;

To reach these goals, the Shorebird Conservation Society uses historical data, collaborating with running atlas projects and organising targeted field works in cooperation with national bird conservation NGOs and groups. This program is an extraordinary effort to bring together citizen and professional scientists to get the desired data collected and understood in the best possible way.


Program duration

The fieldwork of the first phase of the Breeding Shorebird Atlas program starts in 2021. The target closing date is 30 April 2029, with the possibility of an additional year of fieldwork due to the uncertainty around the Covid-19 Pandemic. Analysis and publishing are planned to be completed by 2030-31.


Survey protocol

UTM Grid Surveys: During the fieldwork of the Breeding Shorebird Atlas, the area survey protocol is used. It means that a surveyor surveys the entire 1x1 km square (or block) for nesting shorebirds. It can be done by walking two-line transects 300-300 meters from both sides of the square or scanning the block offsite. Actual nesting sites are often closed for the public and surveyors are restricted to walk on footpaths or trails only.


A map is provided to define which UTM grid the nesting/colony falls into. If there is a larger colony, for example, of 57 breeding pairs of Pied Avocets of which only 43 pairs breed in the UTM square 34T 287500 5285500 the rest of the nesting pairs have to be added to the square 34T 288500 5285500. Following the example, if the surveyor merges the whole Pied Avocet colony into the UTM square 34T 287500 5285500 with no breeding pairs for the adjacent square, it gives us false information about the breeding density of Pied Avocets. The UTM squares are static units that cannot be moved. They often divide a natural habitat (e.g. a pit or lake) into multiple grids. The surveyor has to focus on the boundaries of each square rather than the boundaries of the habitat.


For every atlas project, negative data is as important as positives. Data from grids with no nesting shorebird is welcome as well. The basic principle is that the survey has to be done. For example, one would think that urban areas are not suitable for nesting shorebirds and mark all the relevant UTM squares zero for shorebirds without conducting the survey. In fact, Oystercatchers, Killdeers and other shorebirds often use urban habitats for nesting. Always survey a grid to make sure real data is entered into our database.

It is the surveyor's responsibility to use the safest survey method to determine the number of breeding pairs in a UTM square. The best is to count incubating birds remotely using binoculars or a spotting scope. Birds often nest in open habitats that can be easily overlooked from a vantage point. For species like snipes, godwits, sandpipers, displaying (e.g. drumming Common Snipe) or territorial birds (e.g. multiple Northern Lapwings or Black-tailed Godwits attaching a crow or a marsh harrier over a nesting habitat), is a good indication for nesting and in most cases, the number of pairs could be estimated. Nest searching is accepted if you hold the licence to do that or if it is done with extra care. Entering a nesting site without extra care might result: 

  • physical loss of eggs/chicks (accidental trampling);

  • attracting predators;

  • nest desertion;

  • overheating or over-cooling eggs in the nest.

We don't recommend direct searching for nests. In the case of 'accidental nest find', the time spent around the nest has to be limited to quick documentation. Taking photos is allowed without touching the eggs or any modification in the nest and its surrounding vegetation.

Snowy Plover_Boca Chica,TX_Justin LeClai

Field documentation.

It is advised and very useful to get breeding conditions documented at each visit. Information about human pressure, hunting, water level, recent weather conditions, a sign of predators, the cause of egg/chick loss, an approximate distance of the nests from the water.

Breeding codes:

During the survey, the following breeding codes are used to justify breeding: 

  • NE: Nest with Eggs (Confirmed) –- If you encounter a nest with eggs or see the nest from an observation tower/hide the breeding is confirmed.

  • FY: Feeding Young (Confirmed) -- If an adult is feeding young (oystercatchers often do that) or guarding feeding chicks that have left the nest but still unable to fly, the breeding is confirmed.

  • HL: Recently Hatched Young (Confirmed) – The breeding is confirmed if a recently hatched or downy young observed while still dependent upon adults.

  • ON: Occupied Nest (Confirmed) – Occupied nest presumed by parent entering and remaining, exchanging incubation duties, etc.

  • DD: Distraction Display (Confirmed) – Distraction display, including feigning injury.

  • NB: Nest Building (Confirmed/Probable) – Nest building at an apparent nest site.

  • CN: Carrying Nesting Material (Confirmed/Probable) – Adult carrying nesting material; nest site not seen.

  • PE: Physiological Evidence (Probable) – Physiological evidence of nesting, usually a brood patch. This will be used only very rarely.

  • A: Agitated Behavior (Probable) – Agitated behaviour or anxiety calls from an adult.

  • C: Courtship, Display or Copulation (Probable) – Courtship or copulation observed, including displays and courtship feeding.

  • T: Territorial Defense (Probable) – Permanent territory presumed through the defence of breeding territory by fighting or chasing individuals of the same species.

  • P: Pair in Suitable Habitat (Probable) – A pair observed in suitable breeding habitat (only to be used if the surveyor is confident about the 'suitable breeding habitat' terms and during the breeding season!).

Timing and visits: In most regions, the breeding season is limited to a couple of months, but in the subtropical and desert/arid climate zones, it could be as long as 4-5 months (e.g. most of the Middle East or East Africa). A minimum of 2 visits is necessary (ideally the more the better) to confirm the breeding and to determine the size of the local breeding population. It is recommended to place the first visit in the middle of the incubation period and count the number of incubating adult birds (occupied nests). Assuming that the first visit was placed in the middle of the incubating period for most pairs (calculating with an average 24-28 days incubation duration), second visits should be placed approximately 18-20 days after the first visit. By then, most chicks must have hatched and depending on the mortality rate of the chicks, some of them can be seen around the escorting adults. More visits make measuring the breeding success possible, although that is not in the scope of this program. If the first nesting attempt is failed, for whatever reason, the pair often start a new clutch (if it is not too late in the season) or abandon the nesting site.

Reporting: Each surveyor is requested to do a preliminary site registration followed by the allocation of the 1x1 km UTM grid(s). After the surveyor receives the UTM grid reference with the map, each field of an online survey form (Google form) has to be filled out (ideally right after the breeding season ends). Historical (nesting data from previous years) data can also be entered in the form where available.

Data handling

In this program, data will be collected from different sources through different schemes and organisations with a variable level of sensitivity. Raw nesting data will not be published online during the duration of the program and only manifested and analysed results will be published in the actual atlas. All survey data will be stored safely in state-of-the-art cloud services without access to third parties. In no circumstances, data will be sold to or shared with third parties.


Anything related to the Breeding Shorebird Atlas will be communicated through our regular email newsletter. We don't like overdoing communications as people are receiving dozens of such emails anyway. We focus on essentials, challenges and the time ahead. Besides email newsletters, we use Slack what is an advanced chat service between team members-. When joining the Shorebird Atlas program, a surveyor becomes a team member. In Slack, a user can decide which channel (topic) to keep an eye on, while in emails there is no such option. Join our atlas program Slack channel at

The methodology of the Breeding Shorebird Atlas program is subject to change at any time, but changes will always be communicated through the program newsletter.

Steps to follow

Join the Breeding Shorebird Atlas by filling out the Preliminary Registration Form.



Find the relevant UTM grid and their reference from the map below.


Search for nesting shorebirds in as many 1x1 km

UTM blocks as you can.


Submit fieldwork results with the form below after
the breeding of a species has been confirmed.


Atlas Map

The atlas map is an essential tool to find the reference number of any 1x1 UTM grid. This reference number is needed when reporting a nesting shorebird. 

How does it work?

To see your survey area in detail zoom the map to 500-1,000 ft. (you can see the zoom level at the bottom-right corner of the map).

Screenshot 2021-07-03 at 00.24.47.png

There are two ways to determine the UTM code of a 1x1 km square.

1. In the bottom right corner you can read the code of the zone what is 31T in the example map. The UTM code reference point of each 1x1 km UTM square is the southwest corner of the square (bottom left corner). From the map, the easting (vertical lines) and northing (horizontal lines) codes of the bottom left corner have to be added to the zone code. In the example, the red UTM square has the easting code 628000 and the northing code 4812000. The full UTM code is then 31T 628000 4812000. 

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2. Position the relevant 1x1 km UTM grid to the centre of the map to get the correct UTM gid reference number. Right-click at the centre-point and from the pop-up window copy the UTM code that should have a format like 33U  640503,5546829. Paste the UTM code to the form when you report nesting.

Any difficulties, please email us.

Reporting Shorebird Absence


Reporting the absence of a shorebird species as a breeder is as important as reporting confirmed nesting in any UTM squares. To draw a map of the distribution of a species we have to know where they are not breeding or in another word, where survey efforts have been made.

By filling the form below, we can get valuable information about the absence of each shorebird species in the relevant UTM grid. UTM grids for all land is now available on our map page. Click on the map on the left to find your relevant grid reference.

You can report up to 10 different 1x1 km UTM grids at a time. If more UTM grids need to be reported the form has to be filled again. It is important that survey efforts have to be made for potential negative squares as well.

The map on the left is an example of an actual survey region with surveyed negative and positive UTM squares. The orange squares represent a confirmed nesting of at least one shorebird species. The dark grey squares have been surveyed but no evidence of any shorebird nesting have been found.