ALARMING DECLINE : '' We're in a sort of golden age for bird research. It's pretty amazing that we can satellite-track a robin with smaller and smaller chips.

Ten years ago, that was unthinkable,'' Adriaan Dokter, an ecologist at Cornell University, on how technologies assist the study of bird migrations.

Efforts to save a shorebird confront discouraging numbers.

The number of red knots visiting the Delaware Bay beaches during this spring's northbound migration unexpectedly dropped to the lowest level since tallies began almost 40 years ago, deepening concern about the shore bird's survival and dealing a sharp setback to a quarter century of efforts to save it.

Observationists found fewer than 7,000 of the bird's rufa subspecies during extensive counts on land, air and water on New Jersey and Delaware sides of the bay during May. This is about a third of the number found in 2020; in the early 1980s, the population was about 90, 000.

Numbers were already well below a level that could ensure the bird's survival. An earlier decline had been halted by years of conservation efforts, including a ban by New Jersey on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs, whose eggs will provide essential food for the birds on their long-distance migrations, from Tierra Del Fuego in southern Argentina. Some fly nonstop for seven days before reaching the Delaware Bay.

The latest drop makes the rufa subspecies - which has been federally listed as threatened since 2014 -even more vulnerable to external shocks, such as bad weather in its Arctic breeding grounds, and pushed it closer to extinction, naturalists say.

Joanna Burger, a biologist at Rutgers, called for a ban on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait, an industry that is still active in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. [Jon Hurdle]


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