RED KNOT – (Calidris canutus)
The Red Knot is a wading bird part of the sandpiper family. It owes its name to its breeding plumage, where the face, neck, throat, breast and belly are becoming red-orange like an American Robin. The crown and back are brown mottled with beige and red-orange. The tail is brown, and the rump is white. The long, thin bill is black, as well as the legs. The bill is around the same length as the head. The non-breeding plumage is mottled beige on white for the under parts, and mainly brown for the upper parts. There is a dark stripe across the eye and a light one above it. Red knots are around 25 cm (10 in.) long.
The Latin name ‘Calidris’ refers to a grey speckled sandpiper, and ‘canutus’ as well as ‘Knot’ refer to Danish King Cnut (or Canute).
The habitat of this sandpiper includes tidal and mud flats, shores and the tundra. In addition to horseshoe crab eggs during migration, red knots also feed on insects, crustaceans, molluscs and plant material (emergent vegetation in spring and seeds in fall). Red knots nest on the ground near a source of water.
The red knot does not breed on PEI, but its occurrence varies from fairly common to very common in spring and fall depending on the years, while it is on migration. Its occurrence in the winter has been reported as accidental. Its breeding area is located in the Arctic countries, and it is a long distance migrant, covering some 32,000 km (20,000 mi.) in a single year. Depending on the location of its breeding grounds, the red knot will migrate to the Tierra Del Fuego in South America, to Australia, New Zealand, the west and south coasts of Africa, or closer to home in western Europe.
This makes the red knot one of the birds with the longest migration route in the world. Based on the information from a band on a red knot, that bird apparently had covered enough distance in its short life to go to the moon and half-way back (576,600 km or 385,000 mi.), and for this reason it has been nicknamed ‘moonbird’ (see photo below) and has become a local celebrity, even including its own website!
Conservation: the red knot is considered as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN due to declining numbers from climate change (rising sea levels), habitat loss (coastal development, water pollution), predation on eggs and chicks, and decrease in food sources (over-harvesting of horseshoe crab in Delaware Bay for fishing bait, where the bird stops during migration). Restrictions have now been put in place in that bay on the commercial harvesting of horseshoe crabs. Last summer bird count in Tierra del Fuego was higher than the year before.