Species Spotlight: American Avocet

Shannon Phifer   Website

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Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

“I contribute to ONDA monthly because it adds up to a larger annual gift than what I’d be able to comfortably afford if I were to do a simple one-time donation annually. I’m able to give more to ONDA this way and have greater impact which is important to me, and my dog Polly.”

watch

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

listen

Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape

Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape

Lake Abert: A Hypersaline Oasis in Oregon’s High Desert

Lake Abert is a remnant of ancient Lake Chewaucan, which once inundated 500 square miles in southeastern Oregon. Although only covering 64 square miles today, the lake is still one of the largest lakes in the state, measuring 15 miles long and up to 5 miles wide. Lake Abert has no outlet and millennia of evaporation has concentrated salt in the water, resulting in a hypersaline ecosystem that is saltier than the ocean. Brine shrimp and alkali flies have adapted to live in the highly salt-concentrated water, with each numbering in the billions, providing abundant food sources for avocets and other waterbirds that bulk up before migrating south for the winter.

Avocets congregate in large numbers at Lake Abert in the late summer. Photo: Ron Larson
Conservation Concerns

By most accounts, avocet populations are stable. However, the Great Basin lakes that avocets and other migratory birds depend on have been markedly shrinking in size due to the impacts from drought, climate change and water diversions. This is especially evident at Lake Abert, which went dry in 2014 for the first time since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when it shrank to just 5% of its maximum size. The lake was nearly dry again in 2015, 2016, 2021 and 2022. While avocets still showed up at Lake Abert during each drought year, only half as many were counted.

A collaborative coalition of stakeholders was recently convened to discuss potential solutions to the increasingly desiccated conditions at Lake Abert. The Saline Lakes Act, enacted by Congress late last year, dedicated funding for the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor saline lakes throughout the West, including Lake Abert — representing important and necessary progress toward saving this irreplaceable ecosystem.

Water levels throughout southeastern Oregon are higher this summer thanks to increased spring precipitation. If you have plans to travel through the high desert this summer and fall, make a trip to one of our many lakes and refuges to view the graceful, long-legged avocet.

—Anne White is the Wildlands Coordinator at Oregon Natural Desert Association. Read more of her work at onda.org/author/anneonda-org/.

To learn more about the incredible value of Lake Abert, visit onda.org/lake-abert.

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