Saving Shorebirds from a Changing Climate

An Imperiled Shorebird

Changes in the climate are threatening the existence of a small species of migratory shorebird. According to startling new research published last week in Science Magazine and National Geographic, red knots, which breed in the northern Arctic and winter in the southern hemisphere, are facing an increased risk of extinction.

The culprit? Warming temperatures in the Arctic, which have reduced food availability for chicks, leading to malnourished birds that never grow to their proper size. The end result? Smaller red knots that are less likely to survive and reproduce.

And that’s not the only challenge facing this species. For years, red knots in North America have been threatened by decreasing availability of food along their migration route. Red knots rely heavily on horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay to refuel and fatten up before they continue their long migration. But that food source has been declining over the years.

Red knots aren’t the only shorebird in danger. Of the nearly 50 species of shorebirds that regularly occur in North America, almost 90% are predicted to experience an increased risk of extinction due to climate-driven threats.

Dunlin. Photo by Taj Schottland/NWF
Dunlin. Photo by Taj Schottland/NWF

What We Can Do

Thankfully, there are steps we can take to reduce the impact on shorebirds and other species. We must quickly transition to clean energy sources and away from fossil fuels, while simultaneously protecting and restoring habitat to give species fortresses where they can withstand the threats of climate change. Across the Northeast, we’re working with our affiliates on both of these important fronts.

world series of birding
World Series of Birding. Photo by New Jersey Audubon

Last weekend our affiliate, New Jersey Audubon, hosted the World Series of Birding, where teams competed to identify, by sight or sound, as many species as possible in a 24-hour window. Not only is this a great educational opportunity to teach New Jersey residents about the importance of shorebirds, including the red knot, but the event also raises much needed funds for habitat protection and restoration. This year alone, the event raised $135,000, and over the past 30 years they’ve raised almost $9 million for habitat conservation.

NWF is also working with New Jersey Audubon to assess critical coastal habitats that shorebirds and other birds rely on during their migration. We’re working to understand how these habitats may change, and what we can do to protect them now to help support imperiled wildlife in the future.

Addressing The Root Cause of Climate Change

In addition to addressing the impacts of climate change, the National Wildlife Federation is also focused on addressing its root cause: greenhouse gas emissions. We have an inspiring campaign underway to promote responsibly developed offshore wind power – America’s largest untapped clean energy source.

Offshore wind power provides a tremendous opportunity for states along the eastern seaboard to quickly and effectively transition to clean energy, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the Arctic warming and threatening the red knot and other shorebirds.

For over 25 years, offshore wind power has been producing clean power and over 80,000 jobs overseas. America is finally getting into the game with our first project currently under construction off the coast of Rhode Island. Last year, Deepwater Wind installed the first “steel in the water,” and the project will come online later this summer.

NWF is leading a dynamic coalition, working with many of our state affiliates and other allies, to celebrate this historic milestone and ensure that it is just the beginning. We’re focused on major opportunities to advance this game changing climate solution in the key states of Massachusetts and New York, and we are advocating to ensure that offshore wind power is developed with the highest standards of wildlife protection every step of the way.

Working Together

Participants in last weekend’s 33rd annual World Series of Birding may have wondered if future generations will have the opportunity to see the same diversity of birds they did. We must work together – NWF, its members, and its state affiliates across the region – to protect and restore critical habitats. We can make a clean energy a reality. We can give shorebirds like the red knot a fighting chance. If we do, surely the participants in the 50th annual World Series of Birding will thank us – as will the birds.

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