Red Knots fly in the Piney Woods

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

• Louisiana Ecrivisse, Boyce LA

Red Knots are large, but short and dumpy sandpipers that pass through our region during spring (March to mid-June) and "fall" (late July to early November) migrations. But, they concentrate on the coasts and fly over our piney woods.

You can't mistake a Red Knot in breeding plumage for anything else. The face and under parts are pale robin red and the back is mottled with black, gray, and russet. A vernacular Louisiana name for the Red Knot is "robin snipe".

Juveniles and non-breeding plumage adults are very plain with a washed-out gray look and mottled flanks with white bellies. Legs and feet are greenish and the medium-sized bill is straight and black. Size and short stature help to separate birds in non-breeding plumage from other sandpipers.

Red Knots that visit our region nest in the Arctic tundra and most winter in southern South America with some reaching the tip of the continent at Tierra del Fuego. That's a one way distance of 9,300 miles. There are several staging stops along the way so they don't fly straight through. However, that is a long way to travel one way much less twice a year.

Red Knots nest all around the northern hemisphere. Movements back and forth to wintering sites are often equally as long as those of "our" knots.

Breeding male Red Knots fly in high circles above their territories hovering on rapidly quivering wings and then gliding while making mellow whistling calls. Their mates often fly around the territory with them.

Summer is short in the high Arctic. Once hatched, the young knots feed themselves and are able to fly at 18-20 days. The mothers leave them at this time. So, the juvenile birds are on their own to fly south to their wintering grounds. That\'92s quite a feat of navigation without someone to lead the way!

Red Knots eat all manner of small crustaceans, snails, clams, worms and so forth. Unlike many birds, they do not regurgitate the hard, undigested parts of their prey. This permits ornithologists to use their feces to determine what they are eating.

Early in the nesting season, Red Knots consume a good bit of plant material. Animal prey is apparently in short supply then.

What's in a name? No one seems sure where the name "knot" originated. One theory suggests that the name comes from the ancient Nordic King Canute pronounced a bit like "knot". Another suggests that the name relates to the bird's grunting call notes.

The best place I have found to find Red Knots in Louisiana is the beaches of Grand Isle. Certainly, they make stops all along the coast but this is the easiest place to find them in good numbers that is readily accessible to the general public especially from mid-April into mid-May.

Who is the most famous Red Knot? Well, his name is B95! He was banded in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in 1995 with estimated birth date of 1993. He has been banded at least two more times and last detected in 2014 so he was at least 20 years old. His breeding ground was (is?) in the Canadian Arctic. So, B95 traveled at least 320,000 miles in his life, the distance to the moon and halfway back. So, he became "Moon Bird". Biologist Phil Hoose has written a book entitled "Moon Bird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95".