WatchList Species Account for Red Knot (Calidris cantus)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

Red Knot. Photo:


Breeding also in two areas of Siberia, the Red Knot’s North American population breeds in northwestern and northern Alaska, the high arctic islands of Canada south to islands in northern Hudson’s Bay, and on Greenland. The birds breeding in Greenland and the Canadian arctic islands winter in Europe, while the majority of the remaining birds breeding in North America winter in southern South America, with a few along both coasts of North America.

The total numbers of the bird are estimated at three million, with the Alaskan breeders in the low hundreds of thousands, but aerial surveys in recent years suggest that numbers at the North American staging areas and South American wintering areas have fallen drastically in the past 30 years, with a drop in numbers as high as 50%.

Red Knots are among the longest-distant migrants of any birds—those spending the non-breeding season in Tierra del Fuego travel over 9,000 miles each way between there and their breeding areas. The knot is also known for gathering in large flocks at staging areas during migration before making long-distance nonstop flights, some more than 1,500 miles, to the next traditional stopping area on their long flight. The species is quite faithful to specific staging areas along the migration route; one of the most important of these in North America is the tidal mudflats along Delaware Bay, where thousands gather in mid- to late May to feed on the eggs of the horseshoe crab for a few days and accumulate body fat needed for the long continuing journey to their arctic breeding grounds. As many as 94,000 were estimated to be present there during one census count, and estimates of up to 92% of the entire population of the Alaska-breeding subspecies were present on a single day.

This means the bird is very vulnerable to ecological disaster and short food supplies at a single site; a recent move to limit harvest of horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay will help conserve the bird. The bird is also hunted in South America, particularly in the Guianas. All areas used by the bird, whether for breeding, non-breeding, or migration, are among those where the effects of global climate change are expected to be the greatest.