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Red Knot proposed for Endangered Species Act protection

red knots fws
Red Knots forage amid horseshoe crabs at Mispillion Harbor in Delaware. Photo by Gregory Breese/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Nearly a decade after conservationists first asked the federal government to protect the rufa subspecies of Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act, today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird as threatened.

The knot is a shorebird that annually migrates from the Canadian Arctic to southern Argentina, one of the longest migrations of any animal. More than 100,000 knots once descended on the shores of Delaware Bay in New Jersey each spring, but populations have fallen to about 25,000.

“In some areas, knot populations have declined by about 75 percent since the 1980s, with the steepest declines happening after 2000,” said Dan Ashe, FWS director.

Changing climate conditions are affecting the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration, and its breeding habitat in the Arctic, the service said. The shorebird also is losing areas along its range due to sea level rise, shoreline projects, and development.

“A primary factor in the recent decline of the species was reduced food supplies in Delaware Bay due to commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs,” the agency said in a statement. “In 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopted a management framework that explicitly ties horseshoe crab harvest levels along the Atlantic Coast to knot recovery targets. The service’s analysis shows that although the horseshoe crab population has not yet fully rebounded, the framework should ensure no further threat to the knot from the crab harvest.”

As required by the Endangered Species Act, the service 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.


Today’s proposed rule, in response to a court-ordered deadline, is available for public comment through November 29, 2013. The agency requests a variety of information on the knot, from population trends to genetics and distribution. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

Read more about Red Knot

Read more about the proposed listing

Learn how to submit comments

See a map of the bird’s migration route


See a timeline of Red Knot milestones 

Marvel of the high arctic

New shorebird population estimates show few increases, consistent long-term declines

Originally Published

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