Red Knots – A species on the edge

Flock of Red Knots flying by

Flock of Red Knots (Calidris canutus) flying by - Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Red Knots are medium sized shorebirds and the largest of the “peeps”. Red Knots are long distance flyers, some traveling over 9300 miles to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic tundra and winter as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Chile. During migration and winter Red Knots are found on coastal beaches, sand bars and tidal flats.

Banded Red Knots

Red Knots where two of them are banded -  Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

I first became interested in Red Knots on the west coast of Florida where I would see flocks of them resting and foraging on the shoreline. I noticed that many of the knots were banded and I wanted to know why so I began to search for information about Red Knots on the net. I found out that the birds are being banded in North and South America to study the decline of this species and that valuable information is gained about Red Knots by reports of resightings and recaptures of the banded birds.

I began to takes images of any banded Red Knot that I saw while out photographing on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and reported them.  I even looked for them on the tidal flats of Panama City and in Costa Rica.

Twelve year old banded Red Knot

Twelve year old banded Red Knot -  Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Most of the photos I have taken of Red Knots have been taken to document the bands I saw and are not among my best images. The image above is poor quality but what it shows me is that this Red Knot was banded in Delaware in 1997 (the first year they banded knots there) and that at the time I photographed this Red Knot it was twelve years old!

Foraging Red Knot

Foraging Red Knot in nonbreeding plumage - Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm at 400mm, natural light

Red Knot populations are in serious decline partly due to the over-harvesting of Horseshoe Crabs along the Atlantic coast of the United States, the eggs of which are an important food source for this species. Red Knots fatten up on the crab eggs during their long migration north and without the stored energy those eggs provide many breeding adults do not have enough body mass to make the journey to the Arctic tundra to successfully breed.

Red Knot going out of breeding plumage

Red Knot at sunrise going south for the winter - Nikon D200, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Red Knots are on the edge of extinction and without further regulation of Horseshoe Crab harvesting in North America plus additional protection and conservation measures for Red Knots they may well disappear in our lifetime.

Mia

For more Information on Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs:

To Report Resightings of Banded Red Knots

PBS: Crash: A Tale of Two Species  Very compelling (Full video)

Ecological Society of America :  Demographic consequences of migratory stopover: linking red knot survival to horseshoe crab spawning abundance

USGS confirms horseshoe crab, shorebird link

American Bird Conservancy: Red Knot Wintering Population Drops by More than 5,000, Accelerating Slide to Extinction

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: The Horseshoe Crab – A Living Fossil

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