A breathtaking display occurs each spring along the Delaware Bayshores of New Jersey—a phenomenon not seen anywhere else in the world.
Hundreds of thousands of shorebirds—including sandpipers, sanderlings and ruddy turnstones—converge on the shores of the Bay as part of an annual migration to their summer breeding grounds in the far away Arctic.
However, one bird stands out from the rest for its truly epic annual migration: the red knot.
Red knots fly more than 9,000 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.
The farthest flung red knot populations spend the winter at the southern tip of South America, in Tierra del Fuego. Come spring, they’re on their way to the Arctic where they breed during the short Arctic summer. The Delaware Bay is the final and most critical rest stop for these migratory birds.
They arrive to the Bayshores in early May, famished and half their departure weight after their long journey northward. Their arrival coincides with the annual horseshoe crab spawning in the Delaware Bay. During May and June of each year thousands of horseshoe crabs emerge from the depths of the Bay to spawn along the shoreline. Red knots, relying on masses of tiny, green horseshoe crab eggs on the beach, descend on the Delaware Bayshores and gorge themselves for about one month in preparation for the final leg of their journey to their Arctic breeding grounds.
Imagine hundreds of thousands of shorebirds descending on the beaches to feast on the billion of horseshoe crab eggs waiting for them on the beach—if there ever were a must-see migration this is it. The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey owns several nature preserves along the Delaware Bay, created specifically to protect crucial stopover habitat for migrating shorebirds like the Red Knot.
Places like The Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows, Gandy’s Beach Preserve, and Sunray Beach Preserve ensure that migratory birds will continue to find a sanctuary to rest and refuel in the Delaware Bayshores.
The Delaware Bayshores of New Jersey
The Delaware Bayshores region is a relatively intact natural area acknowledged as one of the Earth’s most important stopovers for migratory birds. The Bayshores’ beaches, wetlands, and forests provide vital feeding and resting grounds along this historic northern migration route. More than 100 species of migratory and nesting birds visit portions of this landscape throughout the year, including waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds and songbirds.