Small and lightweight, the Red Knot is a migrating shorebird that travels the world over 18,000 miles per year. This species of sandpiper is under consideration by the U.S. Federal government for its protection status, currently “Least Concern”, to be changed to “Threatened”. The Red Knot is vulnerable to over exploitation of shellfish, and the disturbance of habitat by tourism and recreational activities on the beaches. These activities reduce its nesting grounds, non-breeding habitat and food supply.
Breeding grounds for the Red Knot are in the Canadian and Russian Arctic, and Greenland. They breed in solitary pairs and make their nests, an open shallow depression, on small areas of vegetation surrounded by mud and water or on stoney ground or open vegetated ground. Food at the breeding location is not plentiful and consists of small insects, spiders, small crustaceans, snails and worms. Until insects are readily available, Red Knots also feed on vegetation. Because of the scarcity of food, Red Knots must gorge themselves along the migration trail, stopping at the Delaware Bay to feast on spawning Horseshoe Crab’s eggs. Here, Red Knots will double their weight during this feeding frenzy of roughly 10-14 days, to head north. Between June and August, solitary pairs will make their nest, usually about ¾ mile apart from each other, and maintain their territories. The nests are sometimes lined with dried leaves, grasses and lichens. The female usually lays four eggs that are olive in color with brown spots. The chicks leave the nest quickly learning to fly and make their migratory trip south.
Non-breeding grounds can include the northern Gulf Coast of the U.S., the southern coast of California and northern coast of Mexico. They are found also wintering in Massachusettes. But uniquely, these migrators travel to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America during our North American winter and then back to their northern breeding grounds for the short breeding period. During the non-breeding season, Red Knots will feast on intertidal invertebrates such as molluscs, crustaceans, insects, and sometimes fish and seeds.
The breeding Red Knot is a beautiful bird. It is usually a grey and white blending in with other shorebirds but turning a lovely russet color on its head and breast during breeding season.
Since the 1980s, the decline of the Horseshoe Crab in the Delaware Bay has contributed to the decline of the Red Knot. The Horseshoe Crab takes 9-11 years to mature, and finally at the end of May into early June each year, the female can lay as many as 80,000 eggs. The crabs can live about 16-17 years. Horseshoe crabs are often used as bait for fisherman, causing a decline in mature, egg-laying crabs. Red Knots need this source of food for their life cycle. Legislatures of Delaware, New Jersy and Maryland have done what they can to protect the Red Knot but not enough. Now the Federal government is getting involved and is asking for opinions. You can state yours by going to http://www.regulations.gov. The docket number is FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097.
Why are these birds important? Birds in general are an important part of our global ecosystem. On various levels of the food chain, they are predators, consumers and the consumed. They provide host habitat for insects and help in the plant pollination process. Our feathered friends are also part of the global economy as birding promotes tourism and industry that produces bird watching supplies.
Please support Red Knots by stating that they should be protected with a “threatened” status. Although the government is currently shut down, the website is accepting opinions through the end of November 2013. Thanks for your support.
Save The Chicks.