Species Profile

Red Knot islandica subspecies

Scientific Name: Calidris canutus islandica
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Northwest Territories, Nunavut
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2007
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Red Knot islandica subspecies

Taxonomy

There are currently six Red Knot Calidris canutus subspecies. Among these subspecies, which form distinct populations, three occur in Canada: C. c. islandica, C. c. roselaari, and C. c. rufa.

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Description

The Red Knot is a shorebird measuring 25 cm in length. As do all sandpipers, the Red Knot has a long straight bill, small head, long legs, and long tapered wings, giving an elongated and streamlined profile to the body. During the breeding season, the Red Knot’s plumage changes colour: the face, neck, chest, and much of the underparts turn brownish red. There is a white stripe on the wings, and the feathers on the upper parts are dark brown or black interspersed with red and grey, making the back appear spangled. Males tend to be more brightly coloured than females, with more extensive red on the underparts. The Red Knot’s winter plumage is plain. The underparts are white and the back is light grey. The upper breast and the flanks have greyish or brownish streaks, and the head has dull greyish patterning with a whitish line above the eye. Juveniles have similar plumage, but they can be distinguished by their scaly appearance. Juveniles may also have a soft pale buff colour suffusing the breast.

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Distribution and Population

The Red Knot islandica subspecies breeds in the northeastern Canadian Arctic, likely as far west as Prince Patrick Island and south to Prince of Wales Island, and along the north coast of Greenland, from the northwest up to about Scoresby Sound on the east coast. These Red Knots winter on the European seaboard in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands. Their migration to their breeding grounds takes them through Iceland and northern Norway. This is one of only a few species of birds that breed in Canada and winter in Europe.   Canada (specifically the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) is home to approximately 40% of the breeding population of Red Knots islandica subspecies. Canadian populations numbered approximately 81 000 adults in 2007; this represents a decline of about 17% since the end of the 1990s.

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Habitat

Red Knots use different habitats during the breeding, wintering, and migration seasons. In the Arctic, they nest in extremely barren habitats, such as windswept ridges, slopes, or plateaus. Nesting sites are usually located in dry, south-facing locations, near wetlands or lakes, where the young are led after hatching. Red Knots generally feed in damp or barren areas that can be as far as 10 km from the nest. Migratory stopovers and wintering grounds are vast coastal zones swept by tides twice a day, usually sandflats but sometimes mudflats. In these areas, the birds feed on molluscs, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. The species also frequents peat-rich banks, salt marshes, brackish lagoons, mangrove areas, and mussel beds. This species’ various habitats must provide suitable rest areas, sheltered from predators.   It is unlikely that the extent of this species’ Arctic breeding habitat has undergone any significant change. However, habitat changes brought about by climate change are likely to affect knots, probably in a negative fashion.

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Biology

Red Knots arrive in the Canadian Arctic to breed in early June. These migratory birds generally begin to breed at the age of two. Couples usually produce a single clutch per year in the latter half of June. Nests are simple scrapes in the ground, usually in small patches of vegetation, which may be lined with lichen and other plant material.  The female lays four eggs (sometimes three). Incubation lasts 22 days and is shared by males and females. The female leaves shortly after hatching, around mid-July, leaving the male to care for the brood until the young birds take flight, or fledge, at the age of approximately 18 days. After the fledging, the adult males depart, followed by the juveniles one to three weeks later.   Survival rates among juveniles vary considerably from one year to the next depending on the weather conditions and the abundance of predators. The abundance of predators also fluctuates from year to year depending on the abundance of lemmings, the small mammals that are their main prey. On the breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, the main predators of nests and eggs include the Arctic Fox, the Long-tailed Jaeger, and occasionally the Arctic Grey Wolf. These species, as well as other jaeger species, seagulls, falcons, and owls may also prey on hatchlings and, occasionally, adults. Red Knots generally live to the age of seven or eight.   Everywhere they occur, Red Knots appear to be extremely faithful to their sites. During the nonbreeding season, large groups of these shorebirds gather on migratory stopovers and winter ranges, where they feed in tide-swept coastal zones and rest on neighbouring beaches, in marshes, or on fields, where open, undisturbed habitat is available.

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Threats

In Canada, there do not appear to be any threats to the Red Knot islandica subspecies. However, overfishing of molluscs and crustaceans in the Dutch Wadden Sea poses an on-going threat to wintering populations, as it reduces the quantity of available food. In addition, habitat degradation in wintering grounds in the Dutch Wadden Sea may also threaten these populations.   Finally, the effects of climate change (such as rising sea levels and changing conditions on Arctic breeding grounds) and increased predation (resulting from the rebounding of predator populations including falcons) could pose a long-term threat to Red Knot populations.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy and Management Plan for the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in Canada (2007)

    The Red Knot (Calidris canutus) is a medium-sized shorebird with a typical “sandpiper” profile: long bill and smallish head, long tapered wings giving the body an elongated streamlined profile, and longish legs. In breeding plumage, knots are highly distinctive, with face, neck, breast and much of the underparts coloured a rufous chestnut red. Feathers on the upperparts are dark brown or black with rufous and grey, giving the back a spangled appearance. In winter plumage, knots are much plainer, with white underparts and pale grey back. Six subspecies are currently recognized worldwide, all of which form distinct biogeographical populations differing in distribution and scheduling of the annual cycle. Subspecies occurring in Canada include C. c. rufa, C. c. roselaari, and C. c. islandica.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Red Knot (2007)

    Calidris canutus rufa designated Endangered in April 2007. Assessment based on a new status report. Calidris canutus roselaari type designated Threatened in April 2007. Assessment based on a new status report. Calidris canutus islandica designated Special Concern in April 2007. Assessment based on a new status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Red Knot islandica subspecies (2007)

    This subspecies is a medium-sized Arctic breeding shorebird that migrates to wintering grounds in Europe.  Forty percent of the breeding population of this subspecies occurs in Canada. This subspecies has declined by 17% over the last three generations (15 years). There are no identified threats to individuals in Canada. Habitat on the Canadian breeding grounds is likely stable, but shellfish harvesting on the wintering grounds in Europe presents an ongoing threat.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy and Management Plan for the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in Canada (2016)

    The Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for Red Knot and has prepared this document, as per sections 37 and 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories and others as per sections 39(1) and 66(1) of SARA.

Management Plans

  • Recovery Strategy and Management Plan for the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in Canada (2016)

    The Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for Red Knot and has prepared this document, as per sections 37 and 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories and others as per sections 39(1) and 66(1) of SARA.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2011)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, hereby acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of assessments conducted under subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017