(Calidris virgata)


Picture of bird
© Ralph Hocken
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

Surfbirds breed in the high alpine tundra of Alaska and Yukon. In winter, they are found in rocky, intertidal habitats along much of the Pacific coast between Alaska and southern South America. Surveys of birds wintering in Canada and the United States suggest that the North American population has decreased relative to about 1970, but specific information is lacking for the population in Canada and for those individuals wintering south of good Christmas Bird Count coverage. With a large proportion of the species’ global population, Canada’s responsibility is considered to be very high. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Vulnerable2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseLowBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada50,000 - 100,000 adults (includes birds breeding and migrating within Canada)

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Long-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

Conservation and management

Climate change is expected to have a negative effect on tundra-breeding shorebirds because their conservative life-history strategy (low reproduction and long lifespan) makes it difficult for them to quickly adapt to the effects of accelerated climate change on their breeding habitat (Meltofte et al. 2007). Effects may include: reduction of tundra due to shrub encroachment (Callaghan et al. 2005, Tape and Racine 2006), particularly for species such as Surfbird that use the highest-elevation tundra; asynchrony of insect-chick hatch (Tulp and Schekkerman 2008); and unusual weather events (Martin and Wiebe 2004, Tulp and Schekkerman 2006). Also, because Surfbirds spend much of their time in the intertidal zone during the non-breeding season, they are vulnerable to oil pollution (King and Sanger 1979). Transport of oil poses risks throughout the non-breeding range, and in particular at key staging areas in coastal Alaska (Senner and McCaffery 1997).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other
Northern Pacific RainforestNorthern Pacific Rainforest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other
Northwestern Interior ForestNorthwestern Interior Forest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Stewardship