Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Red Knot - Calidris canutus
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General Comments This "dumpy" shorebird is one of the few that is routinely seen foraging along the ocean beaches, sometimes with Sanderlings or Willets, but more often with a small flock of its own species. Numbers of Red Knots have crashed dramatically since about 2000, with the primary cause suggested to be the strong decline/over-harvest of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay; knots and other shorebirds feed heavily on crab eggs laid on the beaches there to fuel their flight to the breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. In fact, in Dec 2014, the North American subspecies -- Calidris canutus rufa -- was listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a Threatened taxon. The species is still a regular sight along our coast in migration and in winter, but numbers have been reduced as a result, and counts well over 100 birds are now rarely made. Knots favor tidal water for foraging, such as ocean and inlet beaches, or other sand flats; they are not as numerous on the extensive wet mud of tidal flats. They also forage in shallow water of coastal impoundments and pools. As with most shorebirds, inland sightings are scarce and usually occur during periods of bad weather; there is just one mountain record.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status T
U.S. Status T
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident, essentially only along the coast. Formerly common (to at times very common) in spring and fairly common in fall, but now only fairly common in spring, and uncommon to fairly common in fall, along the entire coast. Generally uncommon coastally in winter, somewhat more numerous in the southern half of the coast than the northern, where rare to uncommon by midwinter. Small numbers can be seen in early summer. In the Tidewater zone, very rare migrant, and rare to absent in winter; mostly at Lake Mattamuskeet. Farther inland, casual migrant, with only four records: 1, Occoneechee Neck (Northampton), 3 Apr 1972; 1, Woodlake (Moore, 9 Sep 1977; 1, Fayetteville, 16-17 Sep 1995; and 1, Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 13 Sep 2007. Normal coastal dates: late Jul to mid-Jun, with a noticeable spring flight in mid-May. Peak counts: 2,576, Core Banks, 17 May 1992; 2,000, Ocracoke Island, 13 May 1977; most counts over 100 birds were prior to 2000, but an excellent 225 at Ocracoke Island on 30 Dec 2023 is encouraging.
Piedmont Transient. Very rare in fall, but no spring reports; generally at large reservoirs. All but three records from Falls and Jordan lakes, with the others from Brier Creek Reservoir (Wake), a sewage treatment plant in Winston-Salem, and at Lake Norman. Dates fall between 9 Aug and 2 Nov, but mainly mid-Aug to early Sep. Peak count: 3, Lake Norman, 25 Aug 2007.
Mountains Accidental transient. The only record is a group of eight birds seen and photographed at Hooper Lane (Henderson) on 16 May 2018 [Chat 82:87 link]; this report has not yet been reviewed by the NC BRC. These birds and sizable numbers of other "rare-in-the-mountains" shorebirds such as Whimbrels, Ruddy Turnstones, and Short-billed Dowitchers were also present, as they were forced down by heavy rains.
Finding Tips Knots are most easily found along the coast from early May to early Jun. It is most common on the beaches of Portsmouth and Ocracoke islands, though smaller numbers are present along the entire coast. Wintering birds are almost always seen on beaches, forming tight groups of up to several dozen birds.
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-09], LeGrand[2023-03-10], LeGrand[2018-11-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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