Red Knot is Proposed for Federal Listing under the Endangered Species Act

Red Knot
Walker Golder

Red Knot

In the Fall of 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list the Atlantic flyway population of Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) as a "Threatened" species. This is a long-awaited and important step to reversing the decline and recovering this imperiled shorebird.

The rufa Red Knot is a species in trouble, according to leading scientists and the USFWS.  Their population has declined as much as 75% since the 1980s, with the most dramatic declines occurring in the past decade. The proposal to list the species as "threatened" means the species "is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." This description aptly describes the plight of this plucky, but vulnerable, shorebird.

Red Knots have one of the most impressive migrations in the world, traveling over 9,000 miles twice a year, from the Arctic to Argentina and back. As part their journey, Red Knots stop along Atlantic coast beaches to rest, forage and pack on fat that will sustain them during migration. Many stop over on the beaches of the Delaware Bay in spring to feed on horseshoe crab eggs, before continuing on to Arctic breeding grounds. They will nearly double their weight before setting out on that last, exhausting leg of their northward migration. But commercial harvesting of horseshoe crabs, combined with poor conditions for horseshoe crab spawning, has put these birds at risk.

Additional threats include loss of habitat from shoreline stabilization with hard structures, beach renourishment, shoreline development, human disturbance at critical stopover areas, and climate change. Climate change impacts the Arctic breeding areas of the Red Knot and jeopardizes their ability to successfully nest and fledge chicks. Climate change is also affecting migratory success by causing a mismatch between peak abundance of crab eggs and the birds' arrival at major stopover areas, like Delaware Bay. In addition, habitat loss from sea level rise combined with man-made changes to the coasts in response to sea level rise will negatively impact survival and fitness of red knots.

The proposed listing comes after extensive scientific review of the population trends, status, and threats throughout the range of the species. The listing of Red Knots as threatened could lead to new and much-needed habitat protections in Delaware Bay and across the Atlantic coast.