By Christopher Lim
What weighs less than half a pound and travels over 9,000 miles each year? The Mighty Red Knot, Calidris canutus, is a truly remarkable bird. It makes one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling over 15,000 km from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, flashing its colorful body and wings the entire way.
One of the most colorful birds in North America, Red Knots change color depending on their motives. During breeding season, it has an attractive cinnamon colored face, chest and undersides and dark brown wings. In winter, the Red Knot dons a more modest color scheme, with a gray head, chest and upper parts and a white belly. It has a pointed black bill and long, greenish legs. Males and females look similar. The weight varies with subspecies, but is between 100 and 200 grams. An adult Red Knot is 23-26 cm long with a wingspan of 47-53 cm.
Range and Habitat
The Red Knot is a world traveler. It breeds in drier tundra areas in the Arctic regions of Canada. The Red Knot then makes an unbelievable trek down to South America via both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, often making stopovers in the mud flats of the San Francisco Bay. The Red Knot is also found in Europe and Asia. Outside of breeding season, it is found primarily in intertidal, marine habitats, especially near coastal inlets, estuaries, and bays.
Red Knots like seafood. They eat mainly invertebrates, especially bivalves, small snails, and crustaceans. On the wintering grounds red knots also eat a variety of hard-shelled terrestrial invertebrates that are ingested whole and crushed by a muscular stomach.
Red Knots are flashy creatures. During courtship, the male Red Knot flies up into the air, starts singing, glides around a bit and then lands with his wings pointed up. The female Red Knot lays three to four eggs in a depression in the ground. Both parents incubate the eggs. In fact, the male may do most of the incubation. The chicks hatch in approximately three weeks and they fledge in another three weeks.
As fellow watershed dwellers, it is important for us to protect this fascinating bird’s habitat. The fact that Red Knots come together at traditional staging areas during migration makes large groups vulnerable to pollution and the loss of food sources. The numbers of Red Knots appear to be declining; the populations wintering in South America dropped over 50% from the mid-1980s to 2003.