Western Water News

Saline Lakes of the Intermountain West

Saline lakes are vital to birds and are disappearing or shrinking at an alarming rate around the world. The saline lakes of the Intermountain West provide essential stopover habitat for millions of migrating shorebirds and waterbirds and breeding habitat for several species of shorebirds, gulls, and wading birds in the Central and Pacific flyways. These lakes provide abundant brine flies, brine shrimp, and other invertebrates that enable birds to fuel up for their long migrations. Birds rely on a combination of shoreline, mudflat, wetland, and deep water habitats at saline lakes, as well as the riparian and other habitats associated with the rivers and agricultural drains that bring fresh water to the lakes. 

Because water is scarce in the West, it is of extraordinary value wherever it occurs, and birds have adapted to exploit the unique ecosystems associated with saline lakes. These lakes, such as Great Salt Lake in Utah, Lake Abert in Oregon, Goose Lake on the Oregon-California border, and the Lahontan Valley lakes in Nevada, function as a network, supporting large portions of the world populations of Wilson’s Phalaropes, Snowy Plovers, California Gulls, Eared Grebes, and American Avocets. Huge numbers of shorebirds gather in fall on salty lakes in the west before migrating to South America. Learn more about Wilson’s Phalaropes and other birds with Audubon’s Field Guide

Audubon is leading efforts to protect bird habitat at the Salton Sea. By providing mapping data and other research to determine how much—and what kind—of habitat birds need, Audubon is guiding restoration efforts in one of the Pacific Flyway’s most important bird areas.

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