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Red Knot

Calidris canutus
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
This large and diverse family of shorebirds is made up mostly of northern breeders that migrate long distances. Their highly migratory nature leads them astray fairly frequently, and rarities often show up outside their normal range. Many of these mostly coastal birds forage in relation to the tides, rather than the time of day. They use a variety of foraging techniques, but the most common techniques are picking food from the ground or water, or probing into wet sand or mud. Those that probe generally have sensitive bills that open at the tips. Most members of this group eat small invertebrates. Many make dramatic, aerial display-flights during courtship. Nesting practices vary, but both parents typically help raise the young. Clutch size is usually four, and both parents generally incubate. The young are precocial and leave the nest within a day of the hatching of the last chick. Most feed themselves, although the parents generally tend the young for a varying period of time. The female typically abandons the group first, leaving the male to care for the young until they are independent.
Uncommon migrant outer coast.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

The Red Knot is a sturdy, medium-sized shorebird with a short, straight bill and olive-yellow legs. In breeding plumage, it is bright rufous below and mottled gray and black above. The adult in non-breeding plumage is gray overall. The juvenile has white-tipped feathers on its wings, giving the wings a scalloped look.


Red Knots breed in the far north, mostly above the Arctic Circle in both North America and Eurasia. Breeding grounds are often inland from the coast, and usually near a pond or stream. Red Knots migrate through and winter along shorelines around the world. Large sandy estuaries and tidal flats are most preferred.


Red Knots form enormous flocks during migration and in winter. They are often found in flocks with Black-bellied Plovers and Short-billed Dowitchers. In the tundra, they feed by sight, picking food from the surface. On tidal flats, they probe for food with their bills--probing a few times and then running to a new spot.


On their breeding grounds, Red Knots eat insects (especially flies) as well as plant matter, especially early in the season before many insects are out. Small invertebrates including mollusks, crustaceans, and marine worms are part of the diet during migration and winter. Eastern populations eat numerous horseshoe crabs during migration.


Males perform aerial displays high over the moist tundra and glacial till that are their nesting grounds. The nest is on the ground, usually near water. It is a shallow scrape lined with leaves, lichen, and moss. Both parents incubate the 3 to 4 eggs for 21 to 22 days. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and feed themselves. The female departs shortly after the young hatch, leaving the male to tend the young for 18 to 20 days, until they can fly.

Migration Status

Red Knots winter on shorelines around the world. Many of the birds migrating through Washington are on their way to southern South America for the winter. These are late-spring migrants and are seldom seen before mid-April. They are usually present through May.

Conservation Status

The Canadian Wildlife Service estimates the global population at 1,290,000 birds, with 400,000 in North America. They were once more abundant in North America but were reduced by hunting in the late 1800s. Protection from hunting has led to some recovery, but the population has declined sharply for unknown reasons since the 1960s. Red Knots are currently listed on the Partners in Flight watch list. Over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs on the East Coast has resulted in the loss of a critical food supply during migration. Other threats to the population are the development of shorelines, limiting habitat, increased human disturbance, and oil spills along their migration routes and wintering range.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Red Knots migrate through Washington and are far more common in spring than fall. Some areas of Washington consistently have large flocks of Red Knots, while they are absent elsewhere. This patchy distribution is typical of the species. The largest flock is typically at Bottle Beach in Grays Harbor (Grays Harbor County). Other flocks are often seen around the perimeter of Willapa Bay and at Leadbetter Point. There are also usually flocks at Bowerman Basin in Grays Harbor. Spring migrants begin to arrive in mid- to late April. By late April, they are common, and then begin to taper off by the end of May. Red Knots are not common anywhere else on the Pacific Coast south of southern Alaska. Outside of these flocks, they are uncommon throughout coastal Washington in spring. In the fall, birds are seen in small numbers, but not in the huge flocks of the spring. They are found in western Washington from mid-August to mid-October, and there are rare reports in winter. Some birds, usually juveniles, also come through eastern Washington in the fall and have been sighted at the Walla Walla River delta (Walla Walla County) from early July to mid-October.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest CoastRRRFCRUFFURR
Puget Trough R RRR
North Cascades
West Cascades
East Cascades
Canadian Rockies
Blue Mountains
Columbia Plateau

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

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Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Red ListImmediate Concern

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern