American Birding Podcast



Red Knot up for Endangered Species Protection

Via DC Birding Blog

Red_knot_Delaware Birders, environmentalists and conservation groups have been concerned about the precipitous population decline in that gorgeous and quintessential Mid-Atlantic shorebird, Red Knot, for several years now.  The rufa subspecies, which gathers in large numbers at staging areas on Delaware Bay, Delaware, to gorge on Horseshoe Crab eggs while shuttling between tundra nesting grounds and a winter range in southern South America, has plummeted from a high count of 95,000 in the 80s and 90s to fewer than 10,000 earlier this year.  Cause of the decline has been attributed primarily to commercial overharvesting of Horseshoe Crabs for fish bait, but there is concern that climate change may affect the precise time required for the bird’s migration to sync up with the glut of laying crabs every spring.

Conservationists have pushed for the Red Knot to be protected under the Endangered Species Act for some time, and the ruddy shorebird has sat in limbo as a “candidate species” for several years, but it looks like they may finally get federal protection as the US Fish and Widlife Service has stepped up and in some cases expedited, reviews of some species including, at long last, the Red Knot:

“Right now, we need to see more adult crabs breeding, and we’re not,” [New Jersey biologist Larry] Niles said. Fisheries officials that govern the crab harvest keep saying to give it more time, he said. “That would be fine, except we were promised signs of recovery six years ago.”

He suspects further restrictions in the harvest are needed. Or the problem now may lie elsewhere. The illegal harvet may be greater than estimated. The blood of the crab is used as an indicator for contamination in medical devices, and the crabs are caught, partially bled and then returned to the wild. But a recent study suggested that mortality from this may be higher than estimated.

“The insistence that we wait and see means we’re not dealing with these other problems,” Niles said.

Federal ESA listing would probably mean protection of much of the Red Knot’s stopover habitat, including barrier islands in Delaware and New Jersey.  Hopefully, this long overdue action means we’ve seen the nadir of the rufa Red Knot’s population decline, and the continuation of one of the most amazing bird spectacles on the continent.