Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs on the Delmarva Peninsula

Delaware Shorebird Project logoEvery spring, Delaware Bay is the epicenter of both an amazing shorebird migration and spawning by tens of thousands of Horseshoe Crabs. From Red Knots to Ruddy Turnstones, birds arrive and depart daily, taking advantage of this unique and amazing phenomenon.  For nearly 20 years, the Delaware Shorebird Project has been there to study this event in order to better understand and protect it. The Delaware Museum of Natural History’s Director of Collections and Curator of Birds, Jean Woods, Ph.D., participates annually in shorebirds research on the Delmarva Peninsula with the Delaware Shorebird Project.

Take a look below at Feast on the Beach and A Meeting of Migrations, two documentaries created to tell the story of this special connection between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.

Because of the closure of many beaches and local wildlife areas due to the coronavirus pandemic, places normally available for public viewing are currently not accessible. Check back in 2021 for information on where to see this phenomenon for yourself. 

A Meeting of Migrations: Director’s Cut

A Meeting of Migrations was developed as an extended version of Feast on the Beach.

Every spring two huge animal migrations congregate on the shores of Delaware Bay for different purposes. Millions of horseshoe crabs arrive to spawn and lay their eggs in the warming beach sand. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds on their way to the Arctic stop long enough to gorge themselves on the crab eggs. Today this gathering of millions of animals is considered one of the top ten environmental phenomena on the planet. For this reason, researchers from around the world come to study these animals and monitor their populations. The crabs and birds also attract local residents and the general public, who recognize the value of these species and express their concern in a variety of ways. This program profiles the ecology of the horseshoe crab/shorebird phenomenon, the work of the researchers, and the public’s interaction with this world-class gathering. This program was created by Michael Oates of 302 Stories and funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Fair Play Foundation, and the Delmarva Ornithological Society. DMNH Curator of Birds Jean Woods, Ph.D. was interviewed for the project.

Feast on the Beach film

Feast on the Beach: The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Shorebird Connection, produced by the Delaware Shorebird Project, is a film produced to raise awareness and understanding about the ecological connection between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds migrating through the Delaware Bay area, as well as the researchers who study them. Every spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds – including the threatened red knot – pass through Delaware’s central Bayshore region and neighboring New Jersey from areas as far away as southern South America on the way to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic. The Delaware Bay is a crucial refueling stop, where the birds eat horseshoe crab eggs to build their fat reserves before continuing their journey.

Funding for the film was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware Bay Estuary Project, the Delmarva Ornithological Society, and the Fair Play Foundation. Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc. partnered with the Delaware Shorebird Project in obtaining funding for the project.

Student Art:  Brandywine Springs Elementary School

Organizations around the world are highlighting the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by committing to continued conservation action to protect birds for another 100 years. Here on Delaware Bay, with one of the most phenomenal bird migrations on our beaches each spring, we also commit to continued action. Students from local schools were invited to use art to help people understand how they can share the beach with the birds and horseshoe crabs. Take a look at some of the art from a previous year