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Red Knot

These sandpipers are recognizable by their rusty belly and chest.

Many Red Knots make epic migrations each year, over 9,000 miles from southern South America to their arctic breeding grounds. Critical stopover sites include Delaware Bay, and the Red Knot’s spring migration is perfectly timed to take advantage of the annual horseshoe crab’s spawning activities.

When Red Knot chicks are very young, they are led by the adult male. If a predator approaches, the male will perform a distraction display to lead the predator away from the chicks. Little is known about the lifespan of Red Knots, although several are known to have been over 10 years old.


Description of the Red Knot


The Red Knot is a medium, rather stocky shorebird with greenish legs and a rather stout bill of medium length. Breeding birds are reddish on the face, neck, and underparts.


The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter birds are plain grayish above and pale below, with dark barring on the flanks.

Red Knot

Photograph © Tom Grey


Juveniles have boldly marked upperparts, creating a scaled appearance.


Red Knots inhabit tidal flats and tundra.


Red Knots eat mollusks, insects, and plant materials.


Red Knots forage by gleaning from the surface of the ground, or by probing in sand or mud.

Red Knot


Red Knots breed in arctic Canada and Alaska. They winter along the coasts of the U.S. Some Atlantic populations have declined.

Fun Facts

Large numbers of Red Knots congregate at Delaware Bay each spring to eat horseshoe crab eggs prior to their long flights to the breeding grounds, and overharvesting of crabs has threatened the birds in recent years.

Male Red Knots perform a display flight over their territories


Red Knots are usually silent, though males give a husky whistle while displaying.


Similar Species


The Red Knot’s nest is a scrape lined with leaves and moss.

Number: Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
Color: Olive with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 21-22 days, and leave the nest shortly after hatching, though associating with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Red Knot

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Red Knot – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



This cosmopolitan species, with a circumpolar breeding range, has been split into two generally recognized forms occupying the two hemispheres, with a doubtful third form, rodgersi, said to occupy eastern Asia. Our American bird is well named rufus on account of its color.

The knot, or redbreast, as it is called on Cape Cod, was a very abundant migrant all along the Atlantic coast of North America during the past century. George H. Mackay (1893) writes:

On the Dennis marshes and flats, at Chatham, the Nauset, Wellfleet, and Billingsgate, Cape Cod, and on the flats around Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, Mass., they used to be more numerous than in all the vest of New England combined, and being very gregarious they would collect In those places In exceedingly large numbers, estimates of which were useless. This was previous to 1850 and when the Cape Cod Railroad was completed only to Sandwich. Often, when riding on the top of the stage coach on the cape beyond this point, immense numbers of these birds could be seen, as they rose up In clouds, during the period that they sojourned there. It was at this time that the vicious practice of “fire-lighting” them prevailed, and a very great number of them were thus killed on the flats at night in the vicinity of Billlngsgate (near Wellfleet). The mode of procedure was for two men to start out after dark at half tide, one of them to carry a lighted lantern, the other to reach and seize the birds, bite their necks, and put them in a bag slung over the shoulder. When near a fleck they would approach them on their hands and knees, the birds being almost Invariably taken on the fiats. This practice continued several years before it was finally prohibited by law. I have it directly from an excellent authority that he has seen in the spring, six barrels of these birds (all of which had been taken in this manner) at one time, on the deck of the Cape Cod packet for Boston. He has also seen barrels of them, which had spoiled during the voyage, thrown overboard in Boston Harbor on arrival of the packet. The price of these birds at that time was 10 cents per dozen; mixed with them would be turnstones and black-bellied plover. Not one of these birds had been shot, all having been taken with the aid of a “fire-light.”

Arthur T. Wayne (1910) says:

On May 18, 1895, I saw, on Long Island beach, a flock of these birds which I estimated to contain fully fifteen hundred individuals, while on May 21 of the same year, I observed a flock that had alighted on the beach, and that comprised without a doubt more than 3,000 birds.

Excessive shooting, both in spring and fall, reduced this species to a pitiful remnant of its former numbers; but spring shooting was stopped before it was too late and afterwards this bird was wisely taken off the list of game birds; it has increased slowly since then, but it is far from abundant now and makes only a short stay on Cape Cod.

Spring: The main migration route of the knot in spring is northward along the Atlantic coast. The first birds usually reach the United States from South America early in April. On the west coast of Florida, in 1925, I took my first birds on April 2, and they were commonest about the middle of April. I have found them very common on the coast of South Carolina as late as May 23. Mr. Mackay (1893) writes:

They are still found in greater or less numbers along the Atlantic coast south of Chesapeake Bay. Near Charleston, 8. C., Mr. William Brewster noted about 150 knots on May 6 and 8, 1885, and saw a number of fiocksi on May 13. They were flying by, or were alighted, on Sullivan Island beach. On May 17, 1883, he noted about 100 of these birds in the same locality. In the spring they pass Charlotte Harbor, Florida, so I am Informed, in large numbers, coming up the coast from the south (a flight on May 26, 1890), at which time they are very tame. They are also more or less numerous near Morehead City, North Carolina (where they are known as “bench robins”), from May 15 to 30, their flight being along the beach, just over the surf, at early morning, coming from the east In the neighborhood of Point Lookout, 10 or 12 mIles away, where they probably resorted to roost. This indicates that these birds were living in that locality.

On the Massachusetts coast the spring flight comes in May. Mr. Mackay (1893) says:

The most favorable time to expect them at this season Is during fine, soft, south to southwest weather, and formerly they could be expected to pass in numbers heween May 20 and June 5. In former times, when such conditions prevailed, thousands collected on Cape Cod, when they would remain for a few days to a week before resuming migration.

The knot is less common in the interior, but Prof. William Rowan evidently regards it as a regular migrant in Alberta during the latter part of May; his notes record a flock of about 200 on May 21 and one of over 150 on May 23.

It seems to be a comparatively rare migrant on the coast of California, where it never was abundant. But it still occurs in large numbers on the coast of Washington. In some notes from Gray’s Harbor, sent to me by D. E. Brown, lie mentions a flock of over 500 birds seen on May 14, 1920. And S. F. Rathbun has sent me the following notes:

Late on the afternoon of May 16, 1921, we were on the south side of Gray’s Harbor, Washington, on a marsh meadow bordered by the tide flats. At this hour the tide was nearly at its full, and the many shore birds that had been feeding on the flats were forced to retreat before the incoming waters and in consequence were driven close to the edge of the meadow. Not far from where we lay concealed a very large number of these bad assembled on a somewhat elevated stretch of ground near the meadows border, among them being several hundred of the knots, these in two or three compact flocks all the individuals of which were facing the wind. The knots were resting quietly although there was much movement going on among the shore birds. We could easily by the aid of our glasses, see many turnstones, a few greater yellow-legs, these keeping by themselves, and in the shallow water at the edge of the flats a very large number of red-backed saadpipers and long-billed dowitehers, flanked by an immense flock of the smaller sandpipers. At this time the sun was low in the west and Its almost horizontal rays fell full on the breasts of the knots, for in faciag the wind they happened to he turned toward the sun, whose light intensified the pale cinnamon of their breasts, this making a beautiful sight.

Without any warning nearly all of this mass of birds suddenly took wing. As they rose, the knots keeping by themselves separated into three compact flocks and rising high in the air then flew directly towards the north giving their calls as they did so, and this appears to be a habit of the species when taking wing. Again, the kaot does not appear to fly aimlessly about as do many other of the shore birds, and is generally to be seen in flocks, the individuals of which are closely associated, although at times scattering birds will be observed; and In flight by the seeming course a flock will pursue, we always receive an impression that it has some objective point in view.

Dr. XV. E. Ekblaw has sent me some very full notes on the habits of the knot in northwestern Greenland in which he says:

The knot Is one of the commoner shore birds of northwest Greenland, but even so, not numerous anywhere. It arrives In the land as early as the end of May, for early in the spring of 1915 when my two Eskimos, Esayoo and Etukashoo, and I were encamped at Fort Conger on Discovery Harbor in latitude 810 45′ N., we heard the keen call of the knots flying over our camp the afternoon of May 30. The first knots that come are generally in small flocks, but they soon mate and scatter to their nesting places, only a few coming together from time to time near the favorite feeding places. If the weather of early June be inclement the flocks do not scatter so soon, but remain together until the conditions become favorable for mating and nesting. It is quite likely that some of the pairs are already mated when they arrive, for the sex organs are fully developed and ready to function upon their arrival.

In northeastern Greenland the time of arrival is about the same, for A. L. Manniche (1910) writes:

The knots arrived at the Stormkap territory in couples at exactly the same time as did the other waders; in two summers, respectively, on June 2 and May 28. WhIle the sanderlings, dunlins, turastones, and ringed plovers Immediately took to the sparsely occurring spots free from snow, the knots would prefer to go to the still snow-covered hollows in the marshes and moors, where I saw them running on the sijow eagerly occupied In picking up the seed of Carex- and Lamb: tufts the ends of which here and there appeared over the snow. This sandpiper more than its relatives, feeds on plants at certain seasons. In the first days I also observed now and then a couple of knots on snowless spots on elevated table-lands and even on the top of the high gravel banks at Stormkap. These may, however, have settled there in order to rest after the voyage and not to search food. As soon as ponds of melting snow and fresh-water beaches free from Ice were to be found, the knots would resort to these, and here the birds wading or swimming looked for animal diet. In this season the knot did not appear on the salt-water shore like other waders. Gradually as more extensive stretches of low-lying table-land became free from snow, the knots occurred more frequently here in their real nesting quarters; they would, however, still for a while often visit moors and marshes with a rich vegetation of Cyperaceae.

Courtship: IDoctor Ekblaw describes this as follows:

The courtship Is brief but ardent. Whether it is the females that woo the males, as among the phale ropes, or as normally the males that woo the fe. males, it is difficult to determine, for the breeding plumages of the two sexes are quite indistinguishable. On June 3, 1916, I observed closely the courtship of three knots high up on one of the lilateaus of Numataksuah, hack of North Star Bay. Two males (2) were evidently pursuing one female (2), she leading, they winging rapidly in her wake, contending as they flew; apparently all uttered the shrill piercing call to which the knots so frequently give voice during the mating and nesting season of early summer, and which one rarely, If ever, hears after the young are hatched. In great circles they flew, now and then stooping to a zigzag pirouetting and dodging, again rising in wide circles until they disappeared from sight in the bright sky, though their shrill calls came to earth as sharp and clear as ever.

In the ecstasy of the mating season a single bird may indulge himself (2) in a kind of dance flight alone. He rises high above the hills, sweeping the sky in great graceful circles not unlike the stately flight of the sparrow hawk, so smooth and calm It seems. From time to time he utters the shrill, clarion call of the mating season, or the soft coo-gee that is most common about the nesting grounds. Then suddenly he drops wildly, tumbling and tossing like a night jar at sunset, as suddenly to break his fall and soar for miles on still, outstretched wings, not a movement noticeable.

Mr. Manniche (1910) refers to it as follows:

The male suddenly gets up from the snow-clad ground, and producing the most beautiful flutelike notes, following an oblique line with rapid wing strokes, mounts to an enormous height often so high that he can not be followed with the naked eye. Up here in the clear frosty air he flies around in large circles on quivering wings and his melodious far-sounding notes are heard far and wide over the country, bringing joy to other birds of his own kin. The song sounds now more distant, now nearer, when three or four males are singing at the same time. Now and then the bird slides slowly downwards on stiff wings with the tail feathers spread; then again he makes himself Invisible in the higher regions of the air, mounting on wings quivering even faster than before. Only now and then the observer: guided by the continuing song: succeeds for a moment in discerning the bird at a certain attitude of flight, when the strong sunlight falls upon his golden-colored breast or light wings. Gradually, as in increasing excitement he executes the convulsive vibrations of his wings, his song changes to single deeper notes: following quickly after each other: at last to die out while the bird at the same time drops to the earth on stiff wings strongly bent upward. This fine pairing song may be heard for more than a month everywhere at the breeding places, and it wonderfully enlivens this generally so desolate and silent nature. The song will at certain stages remind of the fluting call note of the curlew (Numenius arquatus), but it varies so much with the temper of the bird that it can hardly be expressed or compared with anything else.

Nesting: The nesting habits of the knot long remained unknown; Arctic explorers were baffled in their attelnpts to find the nest; and the eggs were among the greatest desiderata of collectors. This is not to be wondered at, however, when we consider the remoteness of its far northern breeding grounds, its choice of its nesting sites on high inland plains, its widely scattered nests, and its habit of sitting very closely on its eggs and not returning to them after flushing. Col. H. XV. Feilden (1879) writes:

Night after night I passed out on the hills trying to find the nest of the knot. Not a day passed without my seeing them feeding in small flocks; but they were very wild, rising with shrill cries when one approached within a quarter of a mile of the mud flats on which they were feeding. It is very extraordinary, considering the hundreds of miles traversed by myself and my companions: all of us on the lookout for this hirds eggs, and several of us experienced bird’s-nesters: that we found no trace of its breeding until the young in down were discovered.

Some of the earlier records of knot’s nests are open to doubt, but there can be no doubt about the two nests found by IPeary in 1909. Referring to his own failure and Peary’s success, Colonel Feilden (1920) says:

The nests and eggs of the knot were obtained by Peary in the vicinity of Floeberg Beach where the “Nares” expedition of 1875: 76 wintered on the exposed coast of Grinnell Land north of 820 N. mt., and where Peary, on the Roosevelt, wintered in 1908 and 1909 at Cape Sheridan some 8 or 4 miles farther north, and which was the base for his ever-memorable adventure to the North Pole. Probably the reason why we failed in 1876 to obtain the eggs was due to our Ignorance of the localities selected by the birds for nesting. We saw the birds circling over and feeding around the small pools of water left by the melted snow, which here and there were surrounded by sparse tufts of vegetation, and we gave too much of our scanty time to the searching of the marshy spots. Penry’s photographs show that in Grinnell Land the knot has its nests on the more elevated slopes and surfaces covered by frost-riven rocks and shales. The finding of a knot’s nest in Grinnell Land is not an easy task, and it is highly commendable that Peary on his return from the North Pole to Cape Sheridan, and in the midst of his engrossing and more important duties found occasions to take the unique photographs here reproduced.

Two nests with eggs were found by the Crockerland expedition in northwestern Greenland, of which Doctor Ekblaw has sent me the following account:

Though level lands along the shores and the river valleys, or about the pools constitute the feeding grounds of the knots, the high plateaus far hack among the hills, covered with glacial gravel or frost-riven rubble, furnish their nesting sites. By this rather anomalous choice of nesting site, the knot was long able to keep its nest and eggs a secret, and it was not until the members of the Crockerland Arctic Expedition persistently ran down every clue that two full clutches of eggs in the nests were discovered in June, 1916, on a high flat. topped ridge back of North Star Bay, at least 3 miles from shore.

The nests are placed in shallow depressions among the brown clumps of Drya~ iateGrifolia an~l Eltrna beflardi which grow among the rubbles and gravel of the high ridges. The nest Is merely a small hollow, apparently rudely shaped by the nesting bird. The bird in the nest is so like the terrane about her, that she Is well-nigh indistinguishable from It, even to one who knows exactly where she is sitting. Trusting to her effective concealment, the mother bird does not flush from the nest until almost pushed from it. When I placed a camera Only a foot from the sitting bird she did not leave it. Though frightened so sorely that she panted and her heart beat visibly, she stuck to her precious eggs. Her head turned to the wind, she crouched flat upon the eggs, her feathers ruffled wide to hide them. When finally I placed my hand upon her, she broke away, trying by the well-known shore-bird device of feigning injury and inability to fly to draw the intruders away. The bird did not appear at all shy and when she failed to draw us away, remained near us, evidently anxious, but trying to appear unconcerned. Now and then she uttered a soft, but sharply pleading call, more plaint than protest. One nesting bird did not leave her eggs until Doctor Hunt pushed her, protesting plaintively quite away from the nest, with the stock of his rifle.

A set of four eggs in Edward Arnold’s collection was taken by Capt. Joseph Bernard, July 1, 1918, on Taylor Island, Victoria Land. The nest was in a dry spot in a wet marsh; there was a snow bank 50 yards from the nest and a pond on the south side of the nest 100 yards away. He watched the nest for three or four hours, from a hill 500 yards away, but did not see the bird again.

Eggs: The knot lays four eggs, perhaps sometimes only three. The eggs are ovate pyriform in shape, with a slight gloss. In the set of three eggs, taken by the Grockerland expedition and now in Col. John E. Thayer’s collection, the ground colors vary from “pale olive buff” to “olive buff”; they are spotted all over, but more thickly at the larger end, with small spots or scrawls of “sepia,” “Saccardo’s umber,” and “Vandyke brown,” with underlying spots of “pallid” and “pale brownish drab.”

The other set of four eggs, from the same source and now in the American Museum of Natural History, is thus described for me by Ludlow Griseom:

Ground color varying from white with the faintest tinge of light olive (1 egg) to “olive huff” (2 eggs) and deep “olive buff” (1 egg) ; clouded and spotted, especially at the larger end, with shades of color varying from “dark olive buff” to “olive brownish,” the intensity vnrying in direct proportion to the intensity of the ground color; where the spots coalesce into blotches at the larger end of the darkest egg, the color is hlsckish brown; the spotting is scant at the smaller end.

Referring in his notes to the same two sets of eggs, Doctor Ekblaw describes the ground colors as varying from very light peagreen, almost gray, to dark pea-green, “with brown, umber, and almost black dots and blotches of varying size and shape over the green, and faint subcrustal lavender blotches showing through.” Other eggs which I have seen figured or described would fit these descriptions fairly well. The measurements of 42 eggs average 43.1 by 29.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 49.8 by 33.8, 39.9 by 29.7 and 41.5 by 27,7 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation is said to be between 20 and 25 days. Both sexes have been taken with incubation patches, so this duty is doubtless shared by both. I quote from Doctor Ekblaw’s notes again:

Though we found hut t~vo clutches of eggs, we discovered many families of young birds. They are able to lenve the nest as soon as hatched, little gray downy chicks with faint blotches of brown, so like the dried tufts of drygrass as to be quite undiscoverable when hidden among them. Three or four, or rarely five, chicks constitute the group. Their faint plaintive “cheeps” are so ventriloquistic and illusory that it is impossible to distinguish the direction from which they come. When an intruder approaches the little fellows squat at the signal from the parent bird wherever they happen to be at the time, and remain immovable as the pebbles and tufts of dryas until the danger is over, even though it be hours before the safety seems assured. Even the tiniest of these downy fledglings seem able to look after themselves. They run eagerly and constantly about independently pursuing the moths, crane flies, and flies upon which they feed, often 40 or 50 feet from their mother. The first signal from the mother, a mellow, solicitous coo-ce transforms them into immovable pebbles or tufts of dr~as. When they are discovered and realize that their concealment is no longer effective, they scatter panic stricken Uke a flock of little chickens, chirping appealingly to their “mother” who dashes valiantly to their defense, quite beside “herself” with concern, fear, and anger.

Whenever the jaegers, relentless brigands of birdiand, appear, the old knots do not hesitate to attack- In combining their forces, they drive full Into the bigger birds, striking them from beneath again and again, until they chase them away. The young grow fast. In three weeks after hatching they are almost full grown and half-clothed in feathers, quite capable of taking care of themselves. They stay until they leave among the interior plains and plateaus, coming down to shore only when they are able to fly: and then the southward migration begins at once.

Apparently, the knots, like the phalaropes, reverse part of their secondary sex characteristics, for all the birds caring for the young that I collected were males, beyond doubt. When I examined the first bird that I collected with its young, I was surprised to find that the supposed mother,” who had so valiantly and zealously shielded “her” little ones, was actually father. I thought then that perhaps the mother bird had been killed and that in the emergency the father had assumed the responsibility for the youngsters; but later I became convinced by examination of many birds, that Invariably it is the male that cares for the fledglings after they are hatched. The female incubates the eggs, but the male relieves her of further care in bringing up the family.

Plumages: In its natal down the yuung knot can be easily recognized by the grayish, mottled colors on the upper parts and the absence of browns and bright buffs. The shape of the bill, characteristic of the species, is also diagnostic. The crown, back, rump, wings, and thighs are finely mottled or spotted with black, white, gray and dull “cinnamon buff,” the last being the basal color. The forehead, the sides of the head, the throat, and the entire under parts are dull white, tinged with grayish on the flanks and crissum. There is a broad median stripe on the forehead, a broad loral~ stripe from the bill to the eye and a narrower rictal stripe of black.

The juvenal plumage appears first on the wings, scapulars, and sides of the breast; the primaries burst their sheaths before the young bird is half grown. In the juvenal plumage, as seen on migration in August, the crown is heavily streaked with blackish brown, the feathers being edged with light buff; the feathers of the back and scapulars have an outer border of light buff, then a black border, then another buff, and sometimes a faint black border inside of that; the greater and median wing coverts have a terminal buff and a subterminal black border; the tail feathers are edged with buff and the under parts are more or less suffused with pale buff. Probably the buff is brighter and deeper in fresh plumage and it fades out to white before this plumage is molted.

A postjuvenal molt takes place, between September and December, of the body plumage, some scapulars and some wing coverts. This produces the first winter plumage, which is like that of the adult, except for the retained juvenal scapulars and wing coverts. I have seen birds in this plumage as early as September 30. A partial prenuptial molt, similar to that of the adult, produces during the spring a first nuptial plumage in which young birds can be distinguished from adults by varying amounts of retained winter feathers. At the next complete molt, the first postnuptial young birds assume the fully adult winter plumage.

Adults have a partial prenuptial molt between February and June, involving most of the body plumage, but not all of the scapulars, wing coverts, and tertials. There is much individual variation in the time of this molt. I have seen birds in full nuptial plumage as early as March 21 and in full winter plumage as late as May 13. The complete postnuptial molt begins in July with the body molt, which is usually completed before October. I have seen adults in full nuptial plumage as late as September 6. The red-breasted birds reported by Mr. Mackay (1893) as shot on Cape Cod in December and February must have been exceptional cases of delayed or omitted molt; the February birds may have been cases of early spring molt.

Food: Doctor Ekblaw says:

Their food when they first come to the North is scarce, and when the weather is unduly unfavorable they are hard put to it to find enough to live. They probe about the grasses and sedges on the wet moors and along the swales and pools, and sometimes wade breast deep into the water to pick out the small but abundant life that swarms in some of the pools, mostly crustacen and larvae. The upper mandible is relatively soft and pliant. Sometimes they search the tide pools left at low ~vater, or poke about the rocks and gravel along shore.

Other Arctic explorers have referred to the scanty food of the knot in the north; H. Chichester Hart (1880) says that “of a number of knots’ stomachs examined, only one contained any food; this consisted of two caterpillars, one bee, and pieces of an Alga;” Colonel Feilden (1879) saw knots “feeding eagerly on the buds of Saxifraga oppositifolia;” Mr. Manniche (1910) “saw them running on the snow eagerly occupied in picking up the seed of Cereai and Lazzda tufts, the ends of which here and there appeared over the snow.” Later on, when the ponds and marshes are teeming with animal life, they have plenty of food.

With us, on migrations, the knots feed mainly on the sandy and stony beaches, moving deliberately along in compact groups close to the water’s edge, probing in the sand for minute mollusks and small crustaceans. On the sandy beaches on the west coast of Florida, the wet sand is filled with minute shellfish known as Coquinas, on which the knots seemed to be feeding. They also feed to some extent on the mud flats and sand fiats with the black-bellied plover, where they find marine insects and their larvae. Mr. Mackay (1893) says “they also eat the larvae of one of the cutworms (Noctuidae) which they obtain on the marshes,” some of which he has found in their throats when shot. Edward H. Forbush (1912) says: “They are fond of the spawn of the horsefoot crab, which, often in company with the turnstone, they dig out of the sand, sometimes fighting the former birds before they can claim their share.” W. L. McAtee (1911) says that they also feed on grasshoppers and on marine worms of the genus Nereis.

Behavior: The knots fly swiftly in compact flocks, twisting and turning in unison like the smaller sandpipers, for which they might easily be mistaken at a distance. On the ground they are rather deliberate in their movements, generally grouped in compact bunches and all moving along together; they are less likely to scatter over their feeding grounds than other waders. When resting on the high beaches between tides they stand quietly in close groups, all facing the wind; their grey plumage renders them quite inconspicuous at such times. F. 11. Allen tells me that he has seen half a dozen of them hopping about on one leg in shallow water; this may be a sort of game, frequently indulged in by many small waders.

Mr. Manniche (1910) says:

Peculiar to this species is its restless character. The resident couples would every day make long excursions, not only to seek food, but probably also for pleasure. Their great power of flight makes them able to do this without difficulty. In rapid high flight they are now here and now there. I often saw them set out in a northern direction high over the summits of the mountains or in a southern far out over the Ice in the flrths, to return after a short while.

In the breeding season the male is pugnacious and quarrelsome against hirds of its own kin as well as against other small birds, which appear within his domain. Uttering a short cry he will fly up and pursue the intruder In the most violent manner and often he would follow it so far away, that I could not see them, even through my field glass. He would soon return, and having: triumphantly fluting: circled around several times, go down to his mate. I have seen the knot pursue even skuas.

Mr. Mackay (1893) writes:

On the ground they are sluggish and not given to moving about much; unless very much harrassed they are not nearly so vigilant as their companions, the black-bellied plover, hut when they have become shy they are exceedingly xvary and always on the alert for danger. When the Incoming tIde drives the knots from the flats they seek the marshes or some shoal which Is sufficientiy elevated to remain uncovered during high water; they also frequent the crest of the beaches. Here they generally remain quiet until the tide has fallen sufficiently to permit them to return again to the flats to feed. When on the marshes during high water they occupy some of the time in feeding, showing they are by no means dependent on the flats for all their food. They associate and mingle freely with the turnstone (Arenoria interpres), black–bellied plover (Ckarodi-iu.s sqeaterole), and red-backed sandpiper (Triage alpine pecifice) as with their own kind, and apparently evince the same friendship toward the two former birds as prevails between the American golden plover (Charadrius dominicus) and the Eskimo curlew (Numenius boreeiis). I have heard of but one instance (at Revere, Mass., during a storm) of the knot being noted in the same flock with adult American golden plover. At this time there were three, one of which was shot. I have heard, however, of both adult and young knots mingling with young American golden plover, or “pale-bellies,’ as they are locally caned.

Voice: The same writer says:

They make two notes. One Is soft, of two articulations, and sounds Uke rae word “Wah-qnoit’ (by which name it is sometimes known on Cape Cod) although uttered low, it can he heard quite a distance. This note Is particularly noticeable when flocks are coming to the decoys; it has a faint rolling sound similar to the note of the American golden plover (Charadrius domia teas) under the same conditions, only more suhdned and faint. The other – a single note resembling a little honk. These birds will also respond to the note of the black-bellied plover (Charadrius squotarola) as readily as to their owa when It is given with a whistle.

Roland C. IRoss (1924) gives the following graphic description of the croaking note:

The common call is a low-pitched, hoarse “skeuk,” the lowest and heaviest voice on the flats. It struck me as a dull croak, coming pretty regularly from the feeding birds, and especially strong whoa they took wing. A lone bird in joining the flock would croak his coming. The sound can be Imitated In quality and form but In a higher pitch. Make the facial contortions necessary to “cluck” to a horse, but don’t “cluck”; make it “skeuk,” and locate it in the wisdom teeth on the side being dislocated. Pitch it low; It will still he two tones too high. At a distance the sucking or harsh quality Is lost. A softer, more musical rendition is given when the birds are well bunched and feeding, which came to my ear as “chook.”

John T. Nichols (1920) says: “The flight note of the knot is a low-pitched whistle, frequently in two parts, with a peculiar lisp or buzz in it, tlu tlu.”

Doctor Ekblaw describes the notes heard on the breeding grounds as follows:

Four distinct calls characterize the mating and nesting season. Most common are two piercingly shrill calls uttered generally cii the wing, one of them resembling wek-qaoi and the other wee-a-whit, easily distinguished. but somewhat alike. The long-drawn-out coo-a-Ieee, or coo-hee, is a soft, flutelike call also given In flight, but nearly always back among the hills, far from the shore where the nests are hidden. This flutelike call appears to he a signal or recognition call. The fourth call is a sharp, querulous whit, whit, whit, almost like a cluck, often given singly, but more often many times repeated. When their nesting haunts are Invaded or their feeding grounds disturbed this call expresses their displeasure.

Field marks: In spring plumage the knot is easily recognized by its reddish breast, which, however, is not as conspicuous as might be expected. In immature and winter plumage the best character is the absence of any conspicuous field mark. Even in flight it seems to be a plain gray bird; the rump and tail appear but little lighter than the rest of the upper parts and the faint white line in the wings is hardly noticeable. Its larger size will hardly distinguish it from the smaller sandpipers except by direct comparison. Its short, greenish yellow legs and its prominent bill might help one to recognize it under favorable circumstances.

Fall: Doctor Ekblaw says:

As soon as the water begins to grow cold, when insect and other small life becomes scarce, and when the midnight sun approaches the horizon, the knots abandon the northland, plump and strong from their summer stay In the Arctic, and wend their way to the southland. Not even a belated straggler din be found after August 1.

The adults begin to arrive on Cape Cod about the middle of July; the height of their abundance comes about the first week in August and most of them disappear during that month, although Mr. Mackay (1893) has recorded them in October, December, and February. The young birds begin to arrive there about August 20, but the main flight of “graybacks,” as the young are called on this coast, comes along in September and early October, stragglers sometimes lingering into November. When with us, knots frequent the beaches; although they are found on both sandy and stony beaches, I have sometimes thought that they preferred the pebbly beaches, feeding close to the water line, where they are often surprisingly invisible among the variously colored stones. They are not shy, as a rule, and generally allow a close approach before they fly off swiftly, uttering their characteristic notes. At high tide, when their feeding grounds are covered, they resort to the high beaches to rest, preen their plumage, and sleep.

By July 20 the first birds have reached South Carolina, where some remain until October 15. We saw what was probably the last of the mIgration on the west coast of Florida in 1924. The knots were there when we arrived on November 11. During a northerly gale and after a heavy rain on the 21st I saw several small flocks on the high and dry sand of an exposed beach, huddled together in compact bunches and reluctant to move. The last birds were seen on the 26th.

In the interior the knot seems to be even rarer in the fall than in the spring, but on the Pacific coast the reverse seems to he the case. It is regarded as rather rare in Alaska, but F. S. Hcrsey collected a small series for me at St. Michael on August 4 and 8, 1915, and Ii. B. Conover took two at Golovin Bay on August 14. 1924. D. E. Brown’s notes record them at Grays Harbor, Washington, from August 21 to November 2, 1917.

Game: Although no longer on the game-bird list, the knot is a good game bird. It flies in compact flocks, comes well to the decoys when attracted by the whistle of an experienced caller, flies rather swiftly, and makes a good table bird, for it is of good size and usually fat. It was always included in the list of what we used to call “big birds.” On Cape Cod knots in all plumages are called “redbreasts” by the gunners, though the name “graybacl~” is often applied to the young birds. Mr. Mackay (1893) says:

When shy and coming to decoys to alight, they barely touch their feet to the sand before they discover their mistake and are off in an instant. They fly quickly and closely together and, when coming to decoys, usually pass by them down wind, most of the flock whistling, then suddenly wheeling with beads to the wind, and up to the decoys. At such times many are killed at one discharge.

Dr. L. C. Sanford (1903) writes:

One of my pleasant recollections of shore-bird shooting is associated with this bird. I give the date with some hesitation, for it was May 10, near Cobb Island. During several days previous redbreast had been flying, but the tides were not suitable, and it was useless to try for them. Here the flight is along the outer beach, at the edge of the surf, the birds stopping to feed on the mud flats exposed by the falling tide. The sun was not up and the water still high as we set the decoys off one of the points along the beach, close to the breaking waves; the blind was of seaweed, and before we were settled the first flock passed by high up, but a pair of birds dropped out of it and hovered in front of us; another minute and 10 more swung in. Flock after flock, from a few birds to hundreds, passed in the same line, coming into sight over the ocean, striking the beach and following its edge: now low just over the surf, now high up: the first light of sunrise giving them a black appearance. The undulating character of the flight was unmistakable and was in evidence when the dark line first appoared: now distinct on the horizon, presently out of sight In the waves, aU of a sudden rising up over the decoys to circle in. Our chance lasted only a few minutes, for when the flat was exposed the birds all passed by out of range; occasionally we whistled in an odd one, but the flocks shied off. As we carried back our basket of birds it did not occur to us that the experience of that morning would be our last flight of redbreast, but it was.

Breeding range: The breeding lange of the knot in North America is imperfectly known, but appears to extend north to Franklin (Winter Harbor, Victoria Land, and Goose Fiord), and Grinnell Land (Fort Conger). East to Greenland (Floeberg Beach, Cape Sheridan, North Star Bay, Tuctoo Valley, Bowdoin Bay, and Disco Bay). South to southwestern Greenland (Disco Bay) and southern Franklin (Igloolik, Winter Island, and Cambridge Bay). West to Franklin (Cambridge Bay and Winter Harbor). Birds breeding in northeast Greenland may be the European form.

It has also been detected in summer in Alaska at Point Barrow, Point Hope, St. Michael, and other localities, where it may possibly breed.

Winter range: Not well known but in the Western Hemisphere, seemingly most of South America, from Patagonia (Tierra del Fuego) and Argentina (Barracus al Sud and Cape San Antonio) on the south, Peru (Santa Luzia and probably Tumhez) on the west, Brazil (Iguape) on the east, to possibly Jamaica, Barbados, rarely Louisiana (Vermilion Bay), and Florida (St. Marks).

Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival on the Atlantic coast are: South Carolina, Frogmore, April 8, and Egg Bank, April 16; North Carolina, Pea and Brodie Islands, April 18; Virginia Locustville, April 10; New Jersey, Absecon Bay, April 21; New York, Long Beach, Long Island, April 29, and Canandaigua Lake, May 23; Connecticut, Norwalk, May 24, Fairfield, May 29, and Westport, May 30; Massachusetts, Tuckernuck Island, May 11, Franklin, Igloolik, June 14; and Greenland, Jacobshaven, June 3, and Cape Union, June 5.

On the Pacific coast, early dates are: California, Alameda, April 25; Washington, Destruction Island Light, May 6, and Willapa Harbor, May 11 [once at Dungeness, on February 25, 1915 (Cantwell)]; British Colombia, Fort Simpson, May 13; and Alaska, Nulato, May 10, Craig, May 13, Admiralty Island, May 14, St. Michael, May 29, and Point Barrow, May 30.

Late dates of spring departure are: South Carolina, near Charleston, June 5; Virginia, Cape Charles, June 10, Cobb Island, June 25, and Wallop’s Island, June 27; New Jersey, Cape May County, June 3, and Elizabeth, June 11; New York, Amityville, May 31, and Geneva, June 8; and Massachusetts, Cape Cod, June 13, Harvard, June 19, Marthas Vineyard, June 24, and Monomoy Island, June 28.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival in fall migration are: Washington, Lake Oxette, July 12; California, Alameda, August 1, Monterey, August 7, and Santa Barbara, August 21; Massachusetts, Cape Cod, July 15, Marthas Vineyard, July 24, Dennis, July 27, and Monomoy Island, July 30; Rhode Island, Newport, August 1; Connecticut, Saybrook, August 21; New York, East Hampton, July 27, Dutchess County, July 30, Rockaway, August 12, Montauk Point Light, August 14, and Amityville, August 23; New Jersey, Tuckerton, July 3; Virginia, Wallops Island, August 12; North Carolina, Pea and Brodie Islands, July 8; South Carolina, near Charleston, July 20; Florida, Marco, July 1, and Lesser Antilles, Barbados, September 6.

Late dates of fall departure are: Alaska, St. Michael, August 14, Point Barrow, August 17, and Homer, August 23; Washington, Grays Harbor, November 2; California, Anaheim Landing, October 3, and San Diego, October 9; Greenland, Discovery Bay, August 25; Franklin, Winter Island, August 17; Prince Edward Island, Alexandra, September 24; Quebec, Godbout, August 7, Henley Harbor, August 23, and Old Fort Island, September 30; Massachusetts, Marthas Vineyard, October 8, and Monomoy Island, October 28; Rhode Island, South Auburn, September 3, and Newport, September 14; Connecticut, Saybrook, September 25; New York, Shinnecock Bay, September 10, li’reeport, September 26, Penn Yan, October 15, and Amityville, October 16; Virginia, Wallops Island, September 29; North Carolina, Church’s Island, September 30; South Carolina, near Charleston, October 15; Georgia, Savannah, September 24; and Lesser Antilles, Barbados, December 27.

Casual records: The knot has on numerous occasions been detected in the Central or Western States or other points outside of its normal range. Among these are Vera Cruz, Rivera, April 13, 1904; Texas, Corpus Christi, July 1 to 10, 1887; Kansas, Hamilton, September 19, 1911, and Lawrence, April 1~, 1871; Nebraska, Omaha, September 30, 1893, and Lincoln, May 16, 1896, and August 27, 1896; Indiana, near Millers, August 24, 1896; Minnesota, Lanesboro, September 7, 1885; and Montana, Lake Bowdoin, October 4, 1915; Ohio, Sandusky River, spring of 1894, and Licking Reservoir, May 27, 1878; Ontario (occasionally common in spring), Point Pelee, September 15, 1906, and May 30, 1907, and Ottawa, June 4, 1890; Michigan, Port Austin, September 4, 1899, Benton Harbor, June 23, 1904, ForestviLle, June 20, 1903, Charity Island, September 1, 1910, and Oak Point, August 20: 21, 1908; and Alberta, Beaverhill Lake, May 19: 23, 1924.

Egg dates: Greenland: 3 records, June 22 and 30, and July 9. Victoria Land: 3 records, July 1, 9, and 22. Grinnell Land: 2 records, June 26 and 27.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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