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For Immediate Release, September 27, 2013

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Maya K. van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, (215) 369-1188 x 102

Red Knot Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

Shorebird That Migrates Along Eastern Seaboard Has Declined by 75 Percent,
Partly Because of Overharvest of Horseshoe Crab in Delaware Bay

BRISTOL, Pa.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for the red knot, a shorebird that migrates more than 9,000 miles between the poles, from its South American wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego to its Arctic breeding grounds in northern Canada. The proposed protection for the attractive, reddish-brown shorebird is the result of a landmark legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires the agency to make protection decisions for 757 species.

“The red knot is a testament to tenacity, but right now it really needs our help,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center. “With massive overharvest of the horseshoe crabs these birds need to fuel their spectacular migration, protection can’t wait any longer.” 

Red knots that migrate along the eastern seaboard have declined by 75 percent or more since the 1980s, in part because of dramatic declines in horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay, which the birds rely on for food along their 9,300-mile journey from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic. Red knots that do not put on enough weight at the Delaware Bay staging grounds perish on the final push north to the breeding grounds, or may be too weak to nest successfully once there.

The scarcity of horseshoe crabs is being caused by major harvest increases, since the 1990s, for bait in the eel- and conch-fishing industries and for biomedical use. Red knots may also be particularly susceptible to global climate change, which is already causing pronounced changes at the high latitudes where the bird breeds and winters.

“Today’s agreement gives the red knot hope for the protection it needs to halt its decline and begin the climb back to recovery,” said Maya K. van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “It would be a terrible tragedy if we lost this beautiful and remarkable bird.”

The red knot is a large sandpiper with a wingspan of 20 inches and a ruddy head and breast that it displays during breeding season. It migrates in larger flocks than most shorebirds and is highly faithful to the same stopover sites on the annual migration journey. Scientists have estimated that nearly 90 percent of the entire population can be present on the Delaware Bay in a single day. Moving in large flocks is probably an adaptation against predation, but also makes the red knot vulnerable to habitat change and loss of site-specific food sources, like the horseshoe crab.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network and other groups sent a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service for emergency listing of the red knot in 2005. A year later the Service determined the birds warranted protection, but did not provide that protection due to lack of resources.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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