SIB “Bird of the Week” – Red Knot

Red Knot – Calidris canutus
Length:  10.5″; Wingspan: 23″; Weight: 4.7 oz.

Red Knots - Ed Konrad
Red Knots – Ed Konrad

Red Knots are the largest of the “peeps” in North America, roughly the same size as an American Robin.   It makes one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America.  Here on Seabrook Island, we are fortunate to see this bird on our beaches during the spring migration.

In winter, Red Knots are a pale gray with whitish flanks with dark barring and relatively short, dull yellow legs.  Their bill is relatively short and straight, tapering to a tip.  In the spring, individuals in the flock begin to attain their breeding plumage in which the head, neck and lower parts of the body become a pale salmon color.

Red Knots are a common yet exciting migrant through our area between  March and May.  Look for Red Knots feeding on invertebrates, especially bivalves, small snails, and crustaceans, at the edge of the surf and on mud flats in the inlet and river.  They are often found in large flocks during migration (hundreds of birds).  They feed actively, then move on to the next area as a group.  They may often be seen flying offshore in large groups >30 or so, fairly low to the water.  Knot flocks are tightly integrated and individuals wheel and turn with remarkable synchrony.

The Red Knot is a global species and they are in decline.  The populations wintering in South America dropped over 50% from the mid-1980s to 2003, and are listed as a federally threatened species in the U.S.  A 2012 study estimated the total number of all three North American subspecies at about 139,000 breeding birds.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List) lists Red Knot as a Near Threatened species. The occurrence of large concentrations of knots at traditional staging areas during migration makes them vulnerable to pollution and loss of key resources.  For example, Delaware Bay is an important staging area during spring migration, where the knots feed on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs. It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of the entire population of the Red Knot can be present on the bay in a single day. The reduction in food available to the knots because of the heavy harvesting of horseshoe crabs may be responsible for a decline in Red Knot populations.

A group of Red Knots has many collective nouns, including a “cluster”, “fling” and “tangle” of knots.

Make a trip to North Beach and walk towards the spit.  The Red Knots arrived on Seabrook Island a few weeks ago and we may see them as late as early May before they finish their journey to high Arctic islands, northern Greenland, and the west coast of Alaska to breed. (See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

2 thoughts on “SIB “Bird of the Week” – Red Knot”

  1. The write up indicates the red knot has dull yellow legs. All the birds in the picture have black legs. Is the write up correct or the picture correct?

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    1. Hello Eileen. Thanks for your question. We double checked several bird guide sources and websites and found most describe the Red Knot legs as being dark/black during breeding and greenish or dull yellow in non-breeding plumage. Since they visit our island on their migration to their breeding grounds, we will see birds in various stages of molt. I agree the Red Knot legs in the pictures on the blog appear very dark/black. However, as I magnified the original photos, I can see many with yellow/green legs.

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