Gulf Restoration

Red Knot

Photo: Doug Wechsler/Vireo

Red Knot

The eastern North American Red Knot population migrates from high in the Arctic to the southern tip of South America, a journey of thousands of miles each year. In order to make these long flights, Red Knots need migratory stopover sites that are rich in food and free of disturbance, which causes them to waste energy they need to conserve. Human interference with these stopover sites—especially at Delaware Bay—has brought about a dramatic population decline. And now, many stopover sites on Gulf Coast beaches and barrier islands are also compromised.

The Red Knot in non-breeding plumage is quite a drab shorebird. Yet in breeding plumage, with its russet head and breast, it is one of North America's most colorful sandpipers. During migration, Red Knots concentrate in huge flocks at traditional staging grounds in both South and North America to fatten up before embarking on one of the longest annual migrations of any bird.

In the non-breeding season, Red Knots feed principally on marine invertebrates such as small snails, crustaceans, and especially, small mollusks, swallowed whole. The huge flocks that gather during spring migration on Delaware Bay gorge on the horseshoe crab eggs laid in late May. These birds also eat plant material early in the breeding season, when insects are scarce.

Red Knots breed in extreme northern Alaska, Canada, northern Greenland, and Russia. Male Red Knots display with aerial singing.  In contrast to their winter flocking behavior, pairs maintain breeding territories and nest about three-quarters of a mile apart from each other. The nest is a cup-shaped depression on ground lined with dried leaves, grasses, and lichens. The female lays four olive-colored eggs with brown markings. The downy young leave the nest almost immediately.