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It is once again bird-a-thon season. Each spring birders across the North American landscape secure pledges and then head out to comb their local haunts in an effort see as many bird species as possible in a single day. Their efforts raise money for many worthy bird conservation projects. One could make the case that no conservation effort is more urgent or important than the race to save the rapidly declining Atlantic population of Red Knots.
Over the last several decades, this population has crashed, in part due to the loss of a critical mid-migration food supply provided by spawning horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay. The Delmarva Ornithological Society (DOS) is one of several organizations spearheading an effort to acquire and preserve critical crab spawning grounds in the bay. The centerpiece of this effort is the Delaware Bird-a-thon, which has raise approximately $190,000 and helped purchase and protect 274 acres of vital crab/shorebird habitat on Delaware Bay.
Red Knots are long-distance migrants that come to Delaware Bay from as far south as Tierra del Fuego. They arrive having shed as much as 50% of their total body weight and devoid of the fat reserves needed to complete the final 3000-mile leg to their Arctic breeding grounds. Their migration timing brings them to the Mid-Atlantic coast just as horseshoe crabs come ashore to deposit their eggs. The knots then spend many days gorging themselves on the crab eggs, building up their weight and fat reserves before continuing north. Without this important refueling stopover, Red Knots would likely not have the energy required to reach their breeding grounds, let alone reproduce once they got there.
The Atlantic population of Red Knots has maintained fairly stable numbers over the past few years, but DOS Conservation Chair Bill Stewart, who founded the Delaware Bird-a-thon, informs us that the latest winter surveys (2011-2012) suggest that the fragile Atlantic Red Knot population is once again declining. Despite this sobering news, Delaware birders remain committed to doing all they can to help these attractive shorebirds. The best way to lend your support is to make a direct contribution to the Delaware Bird-a-thon, which can be done directly via this secure web connection:
Editor's Note: Since 2009, BirdFellow has proudly endorsed the efforts of the Delmarva Ornithological Society and specifically promoted the Delaware Bird-a-thon. DOS Conservation Chair Bill Stewart provided much of the information above via his annual bird-a-thon letter asking for our support. To learn more about the plight of Atlantic Red Knots, I would encourage you to read "Help the Delmarva Ornithological Society Help the Red Knot" by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal. Rosenthal's piece was published in the BirdFellow online journal on 28 April 2009. As always, we can't overemphasis the importance of your support in preserving shorebird and crab spawning habitat on Delaware Bay. This year's bird-a-thon runs 5-13 May. Please join me in making a contribution today!