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Habitat risk: Use of intertidal flats by foraging red knots (Calidris canutus rufa), ruddy turnstones, (Arenaria interpres), semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), and sanderling (Calidris alba) on Delaware Bay beaches

Burger, Joanna, Niles, Lawrence, Jeitner, Christian, Gochfeld, Michael
Environmental research 2018 v.165 pp. 237-246
Arenaria interpres, Calidris canutus, Calidris pusilla, Limulus polyphemus, beaches, birds, eggs, foraging, habitat preferences, habitats, littoral zone, oyster culture, population dynamics, risk, sea level, spring, surveys, Delaware Bay, New Jersey
Shorebirds usually forage on intertidal flats that are exposed during low tide, and roost on higher areas when the tidal flats are covered with water. During spring migration on Delaware Bay (New Jersey) shorebirds mainly forage on horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) eggs that are concentrated at the high tide line. However, they also use other habitats for foraging. We examined habitat use of 4 species of shorebirds (with declining populations) at five Delaware Bay beaches to determine their use of the intertidal habitat (2015, 2016). We observed birds in three sections at different distances from the mean high tideline (< 100 m, 101–200 m, and 201–300 m)ne. We examined the presence of red knots (Calidris canutus rufa), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla), and sanderling (Calidris alba) as a function of date, tide cycle, section shorebirds foraged from the mean high tide line, and presence of other shorebird species. Understanding how these species use the intertidal flats is important because these habitats are at risk from coastal development, sea level rise, and decreases in intertidal space, including the possible expansion of intertidal oyster culture. Overall, knots were present in the intertidal on 67% of the surveys, turnstones were present on 86% of the surveys, semipalmated sandpipers were present on 77% of the surveys, and sanderling were present on 86% of the surveys. Use of the intertidal flats varied among beaches. Peak and mean numbers of shorebirds/ decreased in each census section, as distance to mean high tideline increased. In general, shorebirds foraged at the waters’ edge during high tide, and then moved out onto the intertidal flats. The strongest interspecific associations were between red knots and ruddy turnstones, and the lowest associations were between sanderling and semipalmated sandpipers. Variations in numbers of each species in 2016 were mainly explained by the number of other species, section (distance from the mean high tide line), location (one of 5 beaches), and date for all species (and minutes to low tide for sanderling). These data indicate that these 4 species use intertidal flats as they become available, and that the mean number in each newly exposed census section of the flats may be lower than in the previous one, partly as a result of some birds remaining in each previously-exposed section. We discuss the management and regulatory implications of shorebird use of the intertidal flats, which include protection of high quality intertidal for foraging by shorebirds.