The American subspecies of a small bird called the red knot may be receiving official endangered species status in the next two years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to put the red knot on the fast track for the listing which would activate special protections for the birds. Four formal requests have been made in the past to put this fast declining subspecies on the list, but, up to now, little action has been taken.
During the latest surveys of red knots taken in their winter home in South America, it was shown that there was a sharp decline in the population, around 5000 fewer birds than last year’s count. The total population is said to be less than 25,000 birds where it once was said to have over 100,000 individuals in Delaware Bay alone less than 30 years ago. Delaware bay hosts about 90% of the subspecies due to the population of horseshoe crabs that lay eggs there. These eggs provide rich food for many species of shorebirds. It is said that excessive human harvesting of these crabs has lead to devastation of many shorebird species on the east coast.
On the west coast, San Diego and southern California, red knots don’t rely on horseshoe crabs to feed. However, only a small population of red knots visit the area and they mostly feed on mollusks and other invertebrates. They mostly arrive here in winter, but have been seen in late summer and early fall as well. In fact, red knots were spotted in the south bay very recently.
San Diego and southern California’s impact on this species has more to do with development of their prime winter habitat, reducing the amount of feeding area available to them. Because red knots make a very long migration, it is critical that they get enough food to fatten up for the trip. If they don’t get enough food, then they will not arrive to their breeding grounds in good enough condition to breed.