A decline in red knots (Calidris canutus rufa) has been attributed to horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) egg shortages on the Delaware Bay, an important foraging area for migrating knots. We studied the movements and distribution of 65 radiotagged red knots on Delaware Bay from May to June 2004 and related movements to the distribution and abundance of horseshoe crab eggs and other prey and to other habitat characteristics. The number of horseshoe crab eggs was the most important factor determining the use of Delaware Bay beaches by red knots (logistic regression cumulative Akaike's Information Criterion adjusted for small sample size [AICc] w = 0.99). The knots shifted from emergent marsh and peat-beaches to sandy Delaware Bay beach when crab eggs became abundant, which also suggested the importance of crab eggs. While red knots used sandy beach zones more than expected, given their availability, 44% of red knot low tide locations were in bay and coastal emergent marsh. The abundance of Donax variabilis (AICc w = 0.95) and Mytilus edulis (AICc w = 0.94) spat, both food for red knots, had a relationship with red knot use of sandy beaches. Levels of disturbance and the abundance of laughing gulls (Larus atricilla) also were important factors in red knot sandy beach use, although secondary to prey resources (AICc w < 0.4). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the abundance of horseshoe crab eggs on sandy beaches is driving movement and distribution of red knots and that there is little alternative food during the migratory stopover in Delaware Bay. Our findings that red knots disproportionately use Delaware Bay sites with abundant eggs and that there is a lack of surplus eggs at areas used and unused by red knots support the continuation of management for sustained yield of horseshoe crabs and other food resources at this stopover.
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Vol. 70 • No. 6