Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

B95 and YY1 Return to Restored Delaware Bay Beaches


Editor’s Note: this article is based, in part, on one published by Haley Jordan in the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’ online newsletter (June 9, 2014).

The famous male rufa Red Knot B95 was seen again this May in New Jersey, at now 21 years old. / © Allan Baker

Thanks to the rapid, herculean restoration efforts of a coalition of partners in New Jersey and Delaware, the hurricane-battered shoreline of the Delaware Bay was ready to welcome more than 100,000 shorebirds arriving on migration this spring. Among them, to our relief and delight, was B95 – the famous Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) named for the code on his orange leg band. At 21 years old now, B95 is the oldest rufa Red Knot on record.

Shorebird scientist Patricia Gonzalez of Argentina reported seeing B95 in late May on Reeds Beach in New Jersey, and was able to photograph and even get video of him foraging! Gonzalez is part of the international team that first banded B95 in southern Argentina in 1995 (at age 2), and again in 2001 with his famous orange flag. The team continues to monitor B95 and other rufa Red Knots each year at specific sites along the birds’ migratory route between southernmost Argentina and Arctic Canada. In making this epic 18,000+ mile roundtrip journey at least 21 times now, B95 has flown the same distance as the Earth to the Moon and halfway back, earning him the nickname “Moonbird”.

YY1, a female rufa Red Knot, is now 18 years old. / © Paul Brotherton

Gonzalez also saw and photographed another superstar last month, YY1. This rufa Red Knot female, likewise named for her leg-band code, was in Mispillion Harbor in Delaware. First banded in March 1998, YY1 is now at least 18 years old. She is affectionately rumored to be B95’s "long-term girlfriend."

In the mid-1990s, they were among the more than 150,000 rufa Red Knots stopping at Delaware Bay each spring. By 2007, the population had declined by nearly 80%. One contributing factor to the decline was the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) in the region during the 1990s, for use as bait for local commercial fishing. Red Knots and many other shorebirds feed almost exclusively on horseshoe crab eggs during spring migration.

The inspiring reconnections with B95 and YY1 this spring would not be possible without ongoing conservation efforts throughout Delaware Bay, a WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance since 1986. After Hurricane Sandy decimated the Bay’s shoreline in October 2012, many partners and funders rallied together to restore 1.3 miles of critical beaches. Their efforts did not stop there, however.

Karen Starkey lends a hand to a stranded horseshoe crab on Pickering Beach, Delaware. / © Laura Chamberlin

The Celebrate Delaware Bay Network, coordinated by Laura Chamberlin of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, provides Delaware bayshore residents and visitors with various opportunities to become stewards of the Bay and its resources. 

In New Jersey, community volunteers are being trained in rescuing stranded horseshoe crabs through the program “ReTURN the Favor.” This year they expanded their horseshoe crab tagging efforts, deploying 3,000 tags at five more beaches and implementing an intensive tag re-sighting project. The data will be valuable in improving crab- and habitat-management practices and in monitoring how crabs are responding to the recently restored beaches.

In Delaware, the Ecological Research and Development Group, Inc. (ERDG) similarly has been leading the “Just flip ‘em!®” horseshoe crab rescue project with bayshore volunteers. ERDG and partners have also created the Bayshore Steward program, training volunteer docents to engage, educate, and inspire residents and visitors of Delaware Bayshore to care for its resources. 

Shorebird declines of recent decades have been drastic, but seeing B95 and YY1 return year after year is an inspiration. It underscores the need to keep working together to ensure Delaware Bay’s role in their hemispheric lives.

More information about the network and opportunities to support and/or participate in events and projects at: Celebrate Delaware Bay website, Laura’s blog, and the Celebrate Delaware Bay Facebook page.

For more information about international Red Knot banding programs, please contact Patricia González (ccanutus@gmail.com), Fundacion Inalafquen, Argentina, or Larry Niles (larry.niles@conservewildlifenj.org), Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey; For Celebrate Delaware Bay programs, please contact Laura Chamberlin (lchamberlin@manomet.org), Celebrate Delaware Bay Network, Program Coordinator, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.