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Safeguarding Imperiled Shorebirds and their Sensitive Habitat

The red knot is an extraordinary flier.

In the course of its life, it may migrate farther than the distance to the moon. But it cannot out-fly the threats along its path.

The red knot and similar shorebirds are showing the most drastic declines of any group of birds. Human disruption, habitat loss and degradation, and climate change are among the top threats that put these birds at extreme risk. Already, populations across the Americas have shrunk by an estimated 70 percent, forcing researchers to warn that without action, some species might go extinct.

We’ve worked closely to fly with partners and locate habitat of the threatened red knot, American oystercatcher and other sensitive species of shorebirds throughout the northwest Mexican coastline. The area is a geographically-crucial wintering and migration stop, hosting more than one million shorebirds from 31 species.

The best way to locate shorebird aggregations is through aerial surveys as many sites are not accessible by road, said Abril Heredia, graduate student with Dr. Eduardo Palacios of our partner Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada, B.C. (CICESE) Our work with CICESE allowed scientists to count enough birds on a particular island to confirm its importance as a stopover site. That discovery allows CICESE to advocate for new, elevated protections.

“Many of these species are very vulnerable to changes in habitat, so knowing the health of the ecosystem is critical to be able to establish conservation strategies in the short and long term. This information would not have been possible without the help of LightHawk,” said Jonathan Vargas, a graduate student working with Dr. Palacios at CICESE.

We will continue empowering scientists and helping decision makers understand and identify threats to shorebird habitat.