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Delaware Bay Shorebird Migration Information

Researchers Optimistic About Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawn and Shorebird Migration - nj.com video, 6/2/13

Since 1985 the Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) has been working to conserve migrating shorebirds on Delaware Bay. Each year more than a half million shorebirds of six species are counted along the Delaware Bay beaches during their spring migration. Other research has shown that as many as two to three times more birds are in the adjacent marshes compared to those counted on the bay beaches. The information gathered by ENSP biologists is crucial to the development of management and land acquisition strategies for the conservation of shorebirds on Delaware Bay.

Migratory shorebirds include species of concern like red knots (listed as "threatened" in NJ) and sanderlings (listed as "declining" in NJ). Red knots are special among the group since most (and perhaps all) of the Western Hemisphere population stops in Delaware Bay on the northbound migration. "Putting all their eggs in one (Delaware Bay) basket" can be risky, and has contributed to their being listed as threatened.

A major threat to the shorebird migration is the declining abundance of horseshoe crab eggs, their primary food in May. Surveys of egg density in NJ bay beaches show a severe decline in eggs since 1991. Lower egg numbers mean that birds cannot find food easily and must concentrate in limited areas where crabs are spawning. By tracking red knots with radio-telemetry, biologists found that birds crossed the bay frequently, apparently searching for food. This extends the time necessary to gain weight, and may have consequences for their tight nesting schedule when they finally reach Arctic nesting areas. ENSP biologists tracked knots to Nunavut, Canada in 1999, and found important nesting habitat for knots migrating through Delaware Bay. We plan to document nest success as an indicator of the health of the Delaware Bay stopover.

Disturbance is another major threat to migrating shorebirds on the bay. ENSP biologists and WCC volunteers work to minimize disturbance at three important beaches: Reeds Beach, Norbury's Landing and Fortescue. Volunteer "educator-wardens" are stationed at these beaches over four weekends during the migration period to inform beach visitors of the importance of the habitat to shorebirds, and to discourage activities disturbing to the birds. About fifteen volunteers participate and contact more than 1,000 visitors each spring.

Three shorebird viewing areas were added to the NJ Wildlife Viewing Guide, at Reed's Beach, Norbury's Landing and Fortescue Glades. Educational signs and information on the migration are available at these sites in spring.

Delaware Bay will also figure prominently in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, which is under the auspices of the US Fish and Wildlife Service The plan helps coordinate agencies and groups in conservation of shorebirds.

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: June 3, 2013