Red Knots


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Every year, flocks of red knots — robin-size shore birds — leave Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and begin one of the longest migrations made by any animal as they head toward their breeding grounds in the Canadian high arctic territory of Nunavut.  En route to their northern destination, red knots stop over at Delaware Bay to take advantage of the annual spawning activities of the horseshoe crab, whose eggs provide needed sustenance for the birds on the final leg of their journey to the Arctic.  Delaware Bay is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where the density of spawning horseshoe crabs is sufficient to fuel the migration flight of these birds.
Red knot brooding
Increased commercial harvesting of horseshoe crabs has caused an 80 percent drop in eggs on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Bay.  Conservationists strongly suspect that the decrease in food supply is adversely affecting breeding productivity for the red knot.  To assess the effects of horseshoe crab decline on the red knots, Larry Niles of the New Jersey Department of Fish and Game has been tracking individual birds to their Arctic nesting grounds as the first step in protecting the birds across their expansive range. With funding from WCS, approximately 100 red knots on the coast of Delaware Bay have been affixed with tiny radio transmitters in order to locate their breeding sites in the Canadian arctic. 
Delaware Bay 2001, Turnstones and Red knots on beach
Data collected on red knot breeding success has been used to implement stricter controls on the harvest of horseshoe crabs on the eastern U.S. coast.   

Project Researcher:

  • Larry Niles

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