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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Red Knot - Calidris canutus

Special Status Species
Native Species

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status

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Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
General Description
Rarely observed at Montana wetlands during migration in May or July through October (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2016). The Red Knot is a medium-sized, bulky sandpiper about 23-25 cm in total length (Baker et al. 2013). Breeding plumage is a salmon-red to brick-red color (often slightly faded) with a light-colored lower belly and under tail covert region; back and tail feathers are generally dark gray with light terminal edges and subterminal rust-colored spots (Harrington 2001; Sibley 2014).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Red Knot’s distinctive reddish plumage makes it easily recognizable during the breeding season. The Red Knot differs from dowitchers (Limnodromus spp.) in its shorter bill, paler crown, and whitish rump barred with grey. It may also be confused with Dunlins (Calidris alpina), which are smaller than Red Knots and have proportionately longer bills with a down-curve at the tip. (Baker et al. 2013)

Species Range
Uncommon Migrant

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 60

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Annually migrate between arctic tundra breeding grounds and marine wintering habitats as far south as Tierra del Fuego, an annual migration distance of up to 30,000 km (Baker et al. 2013). Newstead et al. (2013) used geolocation to show that Red Knots wintering along the Texas coast used the Central Flyway on both north- and south-bound migrations, and used stopover sites in the Northern Great Plains of the US and Canada and also the Nelson River Delta/Hudson Bay area. There are only ca. 50 observations documented for individuals stopping at Montana wetlands, with only 0-4 for any given year since the 1970s; 60 percent of observations have been in May associated with northward migration (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2016).

Migratory stopovers in Montana are rare, but are most common at larger wetlands and 60 percent of documented migratory stopovers in Montana have been at Freezeout Lake, Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (Montana Natural Heritage Program Point Observation Database 2016).

Food Habits
Invertebrates are Red Knots’ major food items away from breeding grounds, particularly small mollusks, but also crustaceans and insects. During the early breeding season, and occasionally during migration, knots will eat plant foods, although they generally use animal foods for most of the year (Baker et al. 2013).

Red Knots generally forage and roost in flocks, both on and away from breeding grounds. Flocks are largest at migration staging and wintering areas. (Baker et al. 2013)

Reproductive Characteristics
Red Knots arrive in arctic breeding areas in late May-early June. Pairs are monogamous. Only one brood per season is known; clutch size is usually four eggs. (Baker et al. 2013)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rufa Red Knot (C. canutus rufa) as Threatened on January 12th, 2015 due to loss of breeding and nonbreeding habitat, disruption of natural predator cycles on breeding grounds, reduced prey availability throughout the nonbreeding range, and increasing frequency and severity of mismatches in the timing of the birds' annual migratory cycle relative to favorable food and weather conditions (Federal Register 79(238):73706-73748). Migratory stopovers in Montana have been rare at wetlands scattered across the state, but 60 percent of documented stopovers have been at Freezeout Lake, Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (Montana Natural Program Point Observation Database 2014). Protection of these and other wetlands, especially larger wetlands rich with invertebrate prey, is of value to this rarely documented visitor as well as other migratory and nonmigratory species (Harrington 2001).

Additional information on the biology and management of Red Knot populations can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Environmental Conservation Online System Species Profile

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Citation for data on this website:
Red Knot — Calidris canutus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from