While vacationing in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina this spring, I got to add a couple great birds to my unofficial life list. I've already shared a post about seeing the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The other very important species I saw there was the Red Knot. And one very important Red Knot individual.
Birding and conservation groups have been calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take immediate steps to list the Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act. The American Bird Conservancy estimates the total population of the Red Knot at a mere 25,000 birds, down from over 100,000 birds. At this rate of decline, the Rufa subspecies of the Red Knot could be extinct by 2020.
While reviewing the images I made of the knots, I noticed that one individual bird had a blue flag and multiple bands on its legs. What was exciting about that discovery is that these larger, color-coded flags carry letters that make them more visible, readable, and reportable than smaller bird bands. Now any birdwatcher who can read the flag can report their sighting of a Red Knot (or other shorebird). This will help provide more information about these imperiled birds than if the only bands being read were on mist-netted birds or those found around the leg of a deceased bird.
The Red Knot I saw had a Dark Blue flag with the letters CB. The dark blue flag means the bird was originally banded in Brazil. Jeannine P., database administrator at www.bandedbirds.org advised me that they don't have the original banding data for the blue flags (yet). She added, "there are not a lot of red knots banded in Brazil compared to North America, so all resightings are especially desired."
I reported my sighting on the Report Shorebirds with Color Bands and Lettered Flags page, then searched for other resightings of "my" bird. I found out that this individual Red Knot was resighted first in New Jersey in May 2008 and resighted a number of times in May 2009 in New Jersey and Delaware. There were no resightings in 2010. My resighting on May 16, 2011 was the first report on this bird in North Carolina. Here's my resighting image posted on the bandedbirds site.
Even though we don't know when this bird was originally banded in Brazil, I can deduce that when I saw it in May 2011, it was on (at least) its 8th trip between its breeding grounds in the Arctic and its winter home in southern South America. At roughly 9,000 miles each way, this bird had already flown at least 65,000 miles in its lifetime!
Red Knot populations have plummeted in recent years, in part due to the decline of the Horseshoe Crab. Horseshoe Crab eggs are a critical food source for the knot during spring migration. Red Knots use the Delaware Bay as a key refueling spot, where they fatten up on crab eggs so they can continue on to breed in the Arctic. But Horseshoe Crab populations in Delaware Bay are in significant decline, at least partially due to the harvesting of the crabs for use as bait. Without the crabs, you have no crab eggs. Without the crab eggs, you have no Red Knots. These two species are inextricably linked, and both are vanishing before our eyes. Unknown problems for the Red Knot may exist in their wintering sites as well.
I will continue to check in periodically at the BandedBird site to see if there are additional resightings of "my" Red Knot. And if you see Red Knots, look for flags on their legs and report any that you're able to make out. All reports may help save the species!
“The Rufa Red Knot, which once darkened the skies during their migration, now stands on the very knife-edge of extinction...it is clear that if the federal government doesn’t act soon, the next generation of Americans will never see this amazing long-distance migrant. People who want to see this bird in the wild best make plans in the near future because the way things are going, it will be gone sooner rather than later.”
~ Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy
I'd like to acknowledge and thank John of the DC Birding Blog who has been relentless in his reporting of the plight of the Red Knot. His posts helped alert me to the decline of the Red Knot and keep me informed of important news about the species.
You can view the Nature program about the Red Knot and Horseshoe Crab entitled "Crash: A Tale of Two Species" in its entirety on the PBS website.
Report Flagged Shorebirds at http://report.bandedbirds.org/
Support the American Bird Conservancy's work to save the Red Knot.