Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Return of the Red Knots

Red Knot "UN4", Knight Island, 2.9.2014
Occasionally I am fortunate enough to find marked shorebirds on the beach and get photographs good enough to identify them.  Today was one such lucky day when I spent several hours hiking the beach at the northern end of Knight/Palm Island.  Bird flocks move around a lot based on disturbance by humans and animals, the stage of the tide, weather, etc.  So when I get the opportunity I use my binoculars to scan the legs of the birds looking for bands.  The red knot is especially likely to be banded since they are being studied due to a population decline associated with  habitat changes and a decrease in their favorite food (horseshoe crab eggs) that allows them to re-fuel during migration to the Arctic in Delaware Bay.  
Red Knot "UN4", Knight Island 2.9.2014

In a single flock of about 40 red knots I spotted two birds marked with light green flags on their legs containing a specific individual code.  I enter this information on a website to determine the history of each bird:

Red knot UN4 was an especially interesting case since it was banded Jan. 1, 2007 on Sanibel Island, FL.  It has subsequently been re-sighted a total of 8 times on Sanibel, Palm Island, in the FL panhandle, and north of Jacksonville, FL.  It appears this may be a knot that winters in FL and migrates to the Arctic to breed.  Others fly all the way to southern South America.  It is remarkable that this red knot is thus proven to be atleast seven years old since it was banded.

Red Knot "5A0", Knight Island 2.9.2014
Red knot 5A0 was banded Oct. 18, 2011, on the coast of South Carolina.  It has been re-sighted five times in SC, Sanibel Island and on Palm Island.  It is at least two years old.

I am always dumbfounded by data of this type.  It is incredible that we can make such observations on birds, and even more amazing that these shorebirds can survive for so long making such remarkable migrations. Red knots face many hazards in the natural and human-dominated world.  Let us resolve to do what we can to make their struggles easier.

Bill Dunson


  1. WOW! Found this article fascinating!
    How truly amazing to sight a banded bird...let alone one that has RETURNED to OUR island!

  2. Double WOW!! I didn't even know we had these here!