International Shorebird Project

Posted by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

We work with the International Shorebird Team to monitor, research and recover species of shorebirds including the red knot. Our work takes us to the Delaware Bayshore and beyond to Florida, Texas and Chile.

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Red knots and ruddy turnstones gorge themselves on horseshoe crab eggs on a beach along the Delaware Bay. ?? Bill Dalton

The Delaware Bayshore in New Jersey is site an annual amazing spectacle of nature. Every spring thousands of shore birds including the red knot, semipalmated sandpiper, ruddy turnstones and sanderlings, visit the bayshore on their long migration flight from their wintering grounds in South America to the Canadian Arctic where they will breed. Today, the annual arrival is a mere shadow of what it once was due to declining numbers of birds returning every year with some species, like the red knot, teetering on the brink of extinction.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation and the Endangered and Nongame Species Program has partnered for many years on the International Shorebird Project designed to halt the decline of these beautiful birds and start them on the road to recovery.

Every year, the shorebird season starts in a small house on Reed???s Beach on the Delaware Bay. A team of experts, led by ENSP’s Amanda Dey and CWF’s Larry Niles, come from across the globe to gather and focus its skills and expertise on learning as much as it can about the populations of shorebirds passing through the bay and on determining ways to recover the populations.

This work is a fundamental component of the International Shorebird Project. It was through the research of the International Shorebird Team that the plight of one particular species of shorebird was highlighted and elevated.

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The red knot is one of the species of birds that arrive on the Bayshore. Red knot numbers have declined from a population of over 150,000 birds to today???s population estimate of only 15,000 birds.

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During the spring migration through Delaware Bay, the International Shorebird Team monitors the arrival and departure of shorebirds, counting their numbers and weighing a subset of birds that are trapped by the Team. When the birds are trapped, they are also banded with colorful flags, each with a unique identifier. The information on these flags, which can be read with a decent spotting scope, is used by the Team to understand where the birds are wintering, migrating and breeding. Anyone along the birds??? flyway can submit the flag information through the website of the Shorebird Project.

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A red knot and a horseshoe crab on a Delaware Bay beach. ?? Bill Dalton

Investigations carried out by the International Shorebird Team helped to build a connection between the decline of horseshoe crab eggs on Delaware Bay beaches and the decline of the shorebirds that depend on the eggs for food and to fuel the final leg of their migration that will bring them to the Canadian Arctic to breed. This research showed that declining numbers of horseshoe crabs were causing serious declines in the amount of horseshoe crab eggs on beaches which in turn was causing fewer birds to gain eough weight fast enough to allow them to reach the Arctic to breed successfully.

This research caused limits to be placed on horseshoe crab harvests and in recent years, an outright ban on horseshoe crab harvesting in New Jersey. Because the horseshoe crab takes upwards of seven years to mature, it will take some time for the birds to reap the rewards of the New Jersey ban. Because other states along the range of the horseshoe crab have not taken such actions, the populations of birds remain in peril.

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Some models have predicted that the red knot could become extinct in 10 – 15 years if an aggressive recovery plan is not put in place soon.

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Conserve Wildlife Foundation plays an active role in the International Shorebird Team on the Delaware Bayshore and during its expeditions to Tierra del Fuego, Chile to monitor and research the birds in their wintering areas.

The Team is responsible for many publications and articles on shorebird populations, their recovery needs and what we need to do from a policy point of view to further their protection. The Team worked to advance the cause of the red knot through the Department of Interior???s listing process. The red knot is now a candidate species for federal listing. It is the hope of the Team that federal protection will be soon forthcoming and recovery efforts can start along the entire range of the bird.

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