Federal protection considered for red knot bird, may affect horseshoe crab population
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 12:10
Every May, as thousands of horseshoe crabs emerge onto the beach from the Delaware Bay waters for spawning, red knots—medium-sized migratory birds—make a pit stop at the bay during their arduous 9,300 mile journey from the Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic. Although their meeting along the bay may seem coincidental, the lives and fates of these two animals are intricately intertwined as the red knot relies on horseshoe crabs for survival.
In what may be the most unlikely pairing in the animal kingdom, the red knot feeds on horseshoe crab eggs, causing the bird’s weight to double. Facing the brunt of the overharvest of horseshoe crabs for conch and eel bait in the ’90s, the red knots population has suffered, thus giving way to a campaign over the past 17 years to get the birds added as an endangered species.
Now, after falling populations of both species, the wish of those lobbying for the preservation of the species is being fulfilled.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced Sept. 27 the red knot is being considered for the federal endangered species list under the Endangered Species Act, which could result in increased protections of the species. The proposal is still pending for the routine 60-day open comment period.
Wildlife biologist Larry Niles, who has poured years into researching rufa red knots, says the wildlife service should be commended for its decision—a move he called “courageous.”
“It’s good for the knots because it will give us more tools to bring the animal back,” Niles says. “I think it’ll help all shorebird species. We could ignore the red knot, but right behind the red knots are species that are having similar drops in decline.”
Kevin Kalasz, program manager for biodiversity at the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, noted the critical role the Delaware Bay plays in the migration of the species and underscored the importance of conservation. When thousands of birds arrive at the beaches in May, they are between 90 and 100 grams. After feasting on eggs for a week to 10 days, they double their weight, reaching up to 180 grams before flying off to the Arctic.
“They come here because they know there is a super-abundant food resource,” Kalasz says.