Sand Trap: Netting Red Knots for Science
If you need to capture a bird for study or rehabbing, there are a number of tools at your disposal. You can use garden-variety butterfly nets or bigger, pool-cleaning nets. Mist nets are a popular strategy. I’ve even marveled at watching fisherman toss a huge cast net to secure a Ring-billed Gull with a bum wing (but with the ground speed of Usain Bolt).
What if, however, you want to nab a group of shorebirds that will scurry or take flight at the merest approach? To paraphrase Roy Scheider, you’re gonna need a bigger net. That’s just what researchers on Cape Cod in Massachusetts are using–a cannon-fired net. Their goal? To gather up juvenile Red Knots for geotagging and release.
The study aims to track the Red Knots (like the ones above photographed by Clare K.) as they migrate up and down the Eastern seaboard, in hopes of understanding why their numbers are declining. The population has dipped by about 75 percent over the last three decades. One scientists posits that harvesting of horseshoe crabs (their eggs are a preferred Red Knot food source) at a crucial refueling stop on the birds’ migration could be part of the problem. Let’s hope the netted birds provide more information that points researchers to solutions.