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Landscape, Coast & Nature

Morecambe Bay - a haven for weary travellers

As autumn rolls around, thousands of shorebirds are undertaking incredible journeys to reach the shores of the Bay. Read on to find out how we can help them survive the colder months.

Morecambe Bay - a haven for weary travellers

As we say goodbye to summer and the nights begin to draw in, around 200,000 shorebirds including ducks, geese and waders are undertaking incredible journeys to reach the sanctuary of the Bay for the colder months.

Where do the birds come from?

Many of these birds have spent their summers in the tundra of the Arctic Circle where they have been busy raising their families. As the days shorten, birds like oystercatcher, brent geese and red knot head south to escape the cold and dark winters of their breeding grounds. Some travel incredible distances to reach the Bay. Chicks from this summer, barely a few months old, will cross oceans to spend the winter on our coast. You can imagine how hungry they must be when they finally reach Morecambe Bay!

Why do birds love Morecambe Bay so much?

Stretching from Fleetwood to Walney Island, Morecambe Bay is a vast expanse of intertidal mud, sand and saltmarsh that is the largest of its kind in the UK. And within this muddy expanse are millions of invertebrate creatures – worms, crabs, shellfish and snails – which make the Bay a rich feeding ground for hungry birds arriving in the autumn. The waders and waterfowl feast on our shores building up their energy reserves to survive the winter and prepare for another intercontinental flight in the spring.

Why is it bad when they fly away?

Compared to the Arctic our winters are relatively mild, but anyone who has experienced the Bay’s wind, rain and snow will know that a winter on the coast is far from easy to withstand. These birds have a hard winter ahead. Just getting enough to eat is a challenge. Their food consists of plants and animals living in or on the intertidal mud, which are inaccessible at high tide. As many birds require light in order to feed, on short winter days their feeding window can be very short. To survive, the birds need to spend every available moment feeding, and the rest of the time conserving their energy by roosting; finding somewhere above the high tide line to keep their feet dry while they rest. Flying uses 12 times more energy than standing still, so a bird that has to fly many times in a day will quickly use up all of the energy that it needs to keep warm. They really need to rest and not be disturbed so they can survive the winter.

How can I help them survive?

It’s easy to do our bit to ensure our birds make it through to spring. Just remember to stop, look and listen for wildlife:

Stop: take a moment to assess your surroundings before accessing the shore or letting your dog off the lead

  • Look: Can you see any birds on the beach? Are they bunched up or busy feeding?

Listen: If you can’t see birds nearby, use your ears to listen for their distinctive high pitched calls.

If you do see birds, be sure to give them a wide berth, so they don’t have to fly and waste precious energy. Keep dogs on leads when wild birds (or other animals) are nearby, as they will instinctively give chase. The birds are a big part of what makes the Bay special for many people, and giving them space will ensure they return year after year for generations to come!