Red KnotCalidris canutus

adult, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, molting to breeding plumage
Doug Wechsler/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Manuel Grosselet/VIREO

Family

Description

This chunky shorebird has a rather anonymous look in winter plumage, but is unmistakable in spring, when it wears robin-red on its chest. It nests in the far north, mostly well above the Arctic Circle (the first known nest was discovered during Admiral Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909); its winter range includes shorelines around the world, south to Australia and southern South America. Where it is common, the Red Knot may roost in very densely packed flocks, standing shoulder to shoulder on the sand.

Habitat

Tidal flats, shores; tundra (summer). In migration and winter on coastal mudflats and tidal zones, sometimes on open sandy beaches of the sort favored by Sanderlings. Nests on Arctic tundra, usually on rather high and barren areas inland from coast, but typically near a pond or stream.

Feeding Diet

Includes mollusks, insects, green vegetation, seeds. In migration and winter, feeds on small invertebrates that live in mud of intertidal zone, especially small mollusks, also marine worms, crustaceans. On breeding grounds, feeds mostly on insects, especially flies. Also eats much plant material, especially early in breeding season (when insects may be scarce), including shoots, buds, leaves, and seeds.

Feeding Behavior

On tidal flats, forages mostly by probing in mud with bill, finding food by touch. On dry sand and on tundra breeding grounds, forages mostly by sight, picking items from surface.

Nesting

Early in breeding season, male flies in high circles above territory, hovering on rapidly quivered wings and then gliding, while giving mellow whistled calls. Female may fly around territory with male. On ground, male displays with wings held high. Nest site is on ground on open tundra, usually near water. Nest is a shallow scrape lined with leaves, lichen, moss. Eggs: 3-4. Pale olive-green, with small brown spots. Incubation is by both sexes (although male may do more), 21-22 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young at first, but female leaves before young are old enough to fly. Young feed themselves. Young are able to fly at about 18-20 days after hatching, become independent about that time.

Eggs

3-4. Pale olive-green, with small brown spots. Incubation is by both sexes (although male may do more), 21-22 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young at first, but female leaves before young are old enough to fly. Young feed themselves. Young are able to fly at about 18-20 days after hatching, become independent about that time.

Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young at first, but female leaves before young are old enough to fly. Young feed themselves. Young are able to fly at about 18-20 days after hatching, become independent about that time.

Conservation

Once far more numerous in North America, but huge numbers were shot on migration in late 1800s. Some populations have declined sharply since the 1960s. The subspecies that migrates from southern Argentina to the Canadian Arctic in spring relies on stopover habitat along Delaware Bay, where the knots fatten up on the superabundant eggs of horseshoe crabs before they continue north to the Arctic. Overharvesting of horseshoe crabs along the central Atlantic Coast has led to a sharp reduction in this food source for migratory shorebirds, and Red Knots seem to have been hit hard by this.

Range

A few winter on southern coasts of the United States, but many go to southern South America for the winter. Some birds nesting in far northern Canada apparently fly across Greenland ice cap in fall, to winter in Britain and Europe.

Listen

foraging calls
song & calls

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Surfbird

Named for its winter haunts, the Surfbird spends the winter (as well as migration seasons) on rocky coastlines pounded by the surf, often clambering about the rocks barely above the reach of the waves. But this stocky little sandpiper leads a double life, abandoning the coast in late spring. Its nesting grounds, high in the mountains in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, were not discovered until the 1920s.

adult male, breeding

Ruddy Turnstone

A chunky, short-legged sandpiper, wearing a bright harlequin pattern in summer, dark brown in winter. The Ruddy Turnstone nests on high arctic tundra of North America and Eurasia, and winters along the coastlines of six continents. In migration it is seen mainly along the coast, although numbers may stop over at favored points inland, especially along the Great Lakes.

adult, worn breeding plumage

Sanderling

This is the little sandpiper that runs up and down the beach "like a clockwork toy," chasing the receding waves. Plumper and more active than most small sandpipers, and quite pale at most times of year, a good match for dry sand. Sanderlings nest only in limited areas of the far north, but during migration and winter they are familiar sights on coastal beaches all over the world.

adult, breeding

Dunlin

The name, first applied long ago, simply means "little dun-colored (gray-brown) bird," a good description of the Dunlin in winter plumage. Spending the winter farther north than most of its relatives, this species is a familiar sight along the outer beaches during the cold months, as far north as New England and even southern Alaska. It is often in large flocks; in flight, these flocks may twist and bank in unison, in impressive aerial maneuvers. In breeding plumage, the Dunlin is so much more brightly colored as to seem like a different bird.

adult male, breeding

Curlew Sandpiper

A few Curlew Sandpipers turn up on the Atlantic Coast every year, rewarding birders who scan through the shorebird flocks. Elsewhere in North America, this Eurasian wader is only a rare visitor. It has nested at Point Barrow, Alaska, but in most years it is completely absent there. Most of those seen as migrants are adults in bright rusty-red breeding plumage; young birds and adults in winter plumage are more likely to be overlooked.

adult, breeding

Stilt Sandpiper

This wader is related to our very smallest sandpipers, but it is much more stretched-out in shape, designed for feeding in deeper water. In its drab winter plumage the Stilt Sandpiper is often overlooked, passed off as either a yellowlegs or a dowitcher, depending on what it is doing. Standing or walking, it looks rather like a yellowlegs; feeding, it acts like a dowitcher, probing the mud with a sewing-machine motion.

adult, breeding Pribilof Islands

Rock Sandpiper

Very similar to the Purple Sandpiper, replacing it in the west. Spends the winter on coastal rocks, sharing this habitat with other "rockpipers" like Black Turnstone and Surfbird. Rock Sandpiper is more effectively camouflaged than these birds, and is often very hard to spot against the gray boulders. Although it nests in places on the mainland of Alaska, it seems most numerous on Bering Sea islands such as the Pribilofs and the Aleutians.

Willet

A Willet standing on the beach is simply a large plain shorebird; but its identity is obvious as soon as it spreads its wings, and it even calls its name in flight. Two distinct populations inhabit North America, one nesting in prairie marshes, the other in salt marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In favorable areas in the middle Atlantic states, Willets are abundant, nesting in colonies, their ringing calls echoing across the tidelands on spring mornings.

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