Rufa Red Knot Gets Listed

Rising sea levels threaten the habitat this shorebird needs to migrate.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will list the Rufa Red Knot as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, they announced this week. The coastal shorebird has experienced a population drop of more than 75 percent since the 1980s.

The Rufa Red Knot, a subspecies of the Red Knot, is a large sandpiper whose breeding plumage is a striking shade of red. The bird spends the summers breeding in the Arctic tundra, and then makes a heroic migration of more than 9,300 miles to the tip of South America, where it passes the winter months.

The species is vulnerable throughout this entire range. Predators eat its eggs and chicks in its Arctic breeding grounds, and the bird is hunted for food in parts of South America. Other risks include coastal development, diminishing food supplies, and oil spills along its migratory path.

But its primary threat is climate change—rising seas and increasing storms are engulfing the fragile coastal habitat it depends upon during migration. Without this habitat, the Rufa Red Knot cannot gain the weight it needs to journey to its wintering grounds.

"Human activities have pushed this shorebird to the brink," says Audubon Vice President for Government Relations Mike Daulton.

The listing paves the way for research programs and conservation measures that could help slow habitat loss and population decline, says David Eisenhaur, public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region. The listing could also help FWS join other state wildlife agencies and foreign governments to address climate change and other impacts on the bird, he says. The listing goes into effect in early January. 

"We know that we can make a difference if we act now," Daulton says.