On the brink

Written by Audubon Advisory
 The Red Knot has one of the most impressive migrations in the world, traveling over 9,000 miles twice a year along the Atlantic Flyway from the Arctic to Argentina and back, but habitats and the food resources to fuel this demanding journey have declined, putting these birds at risk. © Walker Golder/Audubon


The Red Knot has one of the most impressive migrations in the world, traveling over 9,000 miles twice a year along the Atlantic Flyway from the Arctic to Argentina and back, but habitats and the food resources to fuel this demanding journey have declined, putting these birds at risk. © Walker Golder/Audubon

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) offered new protections for two of Audubon’s Priority Birds: the Red Knot and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The agency proposed that the rufa subspecies of the Red Knot and the western population of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, basing this proposal in part on research done by Audubon scientists. The proposed listings indicates that these birds are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, and would prevent federal agencies from jeopardizing their existence and critical habitat, and inhibit individuals from harming the birds without a permit. It is welcome news for these imperiled birds, and a successful result for Audubon’s chapters and state offices that joined petitions to request their listing.
The rufa Red Knot has one of the most impressive migrations in the world, traveling over 9,000 miles twice a year along the Atlantic Flyway from the Arctic to Argentina and back, but the habitats and the food resources to fuel this demanding journey has declined, putting these birds at risk. Most of the birds make stops along the Atlantic coast of the U.S., eventually stopping at the Delaware Bay during spring migration to refuel on horseshoe crab eggs. Overfishing of horseshoe crabs has contributed to the population crash of Red Knots. Since the 1980s, populations have fallen by 75 percent, with the steepest declines in the past decade. The FWS also cites climate change as a key threat, which is causing a mismatch between peak abundance of crab eggs and the birds’ arrival, and is limiting breeding ground and migratory habitat from sea-level rise and increasing temperatures. Additional threats include habitat loss from shoreline stabilization and development, and human disturbance. The proposed listing could lead to new habitat protections in Delaware Bay, across the Atlantic coast, and throughout its range.
The western Yellow-billed Cuckoo has also experienced dramatic population declines, primarily because of the loss of over 90 percent of the cottonwood and willow forests that once lined the banks of western rivers due to dams, agriculture, and urban development. Cuckoos depend on natural stream flows to maintain the willow and cottonwood forests in which they breed, but habitat loss and degradation has led to the isolation of their populations, putting them at risk of local extinctions throughout the West. The proposal to list the population west of the Continental Divide as threatened would help protect their remaining habitat and could restore some of their former range.
The FWS is now accepting public comments on their proposal for both species. Stay tuned for action alerts so that you can submit comments in support of protecting both of these imperiled birds. The final decisions will made by next summer.
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