A new film underlines the irreplaceable role the Delaware Bay beaches play in the ecologically-essential annual migration of rare shorebirds. Feast on the Beach: The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Shorebird Connection captures the epic trek of the birds from South America all the way to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic.
The Delaware Bay is an important springtime stop for the birds – many of which are the threatened red knot – not so much because it is a good halfway resting place, but because it is an unrivaled refueling spot, where the feathered flyers feast on horseshoe crab eggs that are plentiful along the bay beaches.
The film was created by the Delaware Shorebird Project to raise awareness and understanding about this wildlife connection as well as to highlight the efforts of the researchers who study them.
Beginning in early May, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs make their way toward the beaches of the Delaware Bay. At high tide, especially during the new and full moon, the females come ashore to lay a clutch of 2,000 to 4,000 grayish-green eggs. Many of the egg clutches are disturbed by the bay’s wave action or by successive spawning females and come to the surface.
These millions of loose eggs on the bay beaches become a feast for migrating shorebirds, including red knots, ruddy turnstones, semipalmated sandpipers, sanderlings, short-billed dowitchers and dunlins. The birds have already traveled thousands of miles and have lost a great deal of weight. They feed voraciously on the horseshoe crab eggs, regaining as much as four to nine percent of their body weight per day before resuming their migration to the Arctic.
Researchers capture shorebirds, measure and weigh them, and attach a flag with a unique alphanumeric code. The flag’s color signifies the country where the bird was caught. Teams of scientists and volunteers can monitor shorebird numbers and movements around the Delaware Bay and along their migration routes by resighting these flags. Horseshoe crabs are also tagged.
The Delaware Shorebird Project is a team of scientists, volunteers and birders who since 1997 have worked to research populations and health of migratory shorebirds that visit Delaware Bay each spring. The Delaware Museum of Natural History has been a leading player in the Project, and the film is available online at their website: www.delmnh.org/feast-on-the-beach.
Feast on the Beach was produced by Michael Oates of 302 Stories, Inc., who has filmed shorebirds and horseshoe crabs for more than 30 years.