Last week, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a proposal to list the rufa Red Knot as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


This long-awaited proposal is being celebrated in the conservation community after decades of research on this declining shorebird species. Red Knot populations in some areas have decreased by about 75 percent since the 1980s, with the steepest declines occurring after 2000.


Manomet has been working with regional, national and international partners to assess threats to rufa Red Knot populations, collect and publish data and outline metrics for recovery.


“The Red Knot has been a focal species of Manomet’s shorebird research since the 1980s, when Manomet Biologist Brian Harrington first brought its migration story to the public eye,” said Brad Winn, biologist for Manomet’s Shorebird Recovery Project. “The proposal is a giant step in the protection of this emblematic shorebird species.”


Red Knots have one of the longest migrations of any animal, traveling almost 9,300 miles annually from their wintering grounds in Argentina to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic and back. They depend on just a handful of stopover sites along this route, so the availability of food resources at those sites is vital.


Declines in Red Knot populations have been linked to reduced horseshoe crab numbers at the Delaware Bay, where the birds nearly double their weight in horseshoe crab eggs during their 2-3 week spring stopover. Commercial harvesting of the crabs has led to a depleted supply of their eggs, making it difficult for the birds to put on enough weight to reach the Arctic and breed successfully.


USFWS biologists have determined that the Red Knot meets the definition of threatened, meaning that it is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.


The proposed rule will be available for public comment through November 29, 2013. The USFWS plans to publish a separate proposed rule identifying critical habitat for the Red Knot before the end of 2013 and expects to make a final decision on both rules in 2014.


Read the full USFWS proposal here.


– Haley Jordan