The rufa red knot is truly a master of long-distance aviation. On wingspans of 20 inches, some knots fly more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Surveys of wintering knots along the coasts of southern Chile and Argentina and during spring migration in Delaware Bay on the U.S. coast indicate that a serious population decline occurred in the 2000s.
The knot’s unique and impressive life history depends on suitable habitat, food and weather conditions at far-flung sites across the Western Hemisphere, from the extreme south of Tierra del Fuego to the far north of the central Canadian Arctic. Knots need to encounter these favorable habitat, food and weather conditions within narrow seasonal windows as the birds hopscotch along migration stopovers between wintering and breeding areas. For example, the knot population decline that occurred in the 2000s was caused primarily by reduced food availability from increased harvests of horseshoe crabs, exacerbated by small changes in the timing that knots arrived at the Delaware Bay. Horseshoe crab harvests are now managed with explicit goals to stabilize and recover knot populations.
Knots may be particularly vulnerable to climate change, which is likely to affect:
- the arctic tundra ecosystem where the knots breed;
- coastal habitats due to rising sea levels;
- food resources throughout the bird’s range; and
- storm and weather patterns.
Knot numbers appear to have stabilized in the past few years, but they remain at low levels relative to earlier decades. Biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state natural resource agencies, and non-profit organizations all share a concern for this race of red knot and are pooling efforts to identify what needs to be done to prevent further losses. Together with these partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to working to conserve this extraordinary bird.
Red knot listing
The Service will make a final decision on the 2013 proposal to list the rufa red knot as threatened under the Endangered Species Act by November 28, 2014. The Service requested a two-month extension from the U.S. District Court of D.C., as the agency had previously agreed to publish a final decision by the end of September 2014 through a settlement agreement with WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity.
During more than 130 days of public comment periods and three public hearings since September 2013, the Service received more than 17,400 comments on the threatened listing proposal, many of which were supportive form letters, while others raised issues with the adequacy of horseshoe crab management, the impacts of wind turbines, the inclusion of interior states in the range, and other topics. The agency requested additional time to complete the final decision so that we could thoroughly analyze complex information available after the proposal, such as national and global climate assessments, and so that we could carefully consider and address extensive public comments. A thorough response to comments will be included in the final document.
Rufa red knot proposed for "threatened" status under Endangered Species Act, Sept. 27, 2013
News release (PDF version)
Questions and answers (PDF version)
Proposed rule (PDF version)
Supplemental documents for the proposed rule: Previous federal actions, Ecology and abundance, Climate change, Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms (PDFs)
Resources: Maps, migration infographic, multimedia timeline, video and photos
Proposed rule and all supplemental documents are also available at www.regulations.gov by entering docket number FWS-R5-ES-2013-0097. Comments submitted during the comment period are posted in that docket.
UPDATES: We reopened the comment period April 3, 2014, for listing the rufa red knot as threatened, and later extended that reopening through June 15, 2014. These materials reference an interim estimate of more than 560 individual comments and 19,000 form letters. The final actual count is more than 17,400 comments.
News release (online version) (PDF version)
Questions and answers (PDF version)
Federal Register notice for reopening
Federal Register notice for extending reopening
Red knot information
Red knot history
Facts about the red knot (PDF version)
Red knot species profile (Petitions, status reviews and conservation documents)
New Jersey Field Office red knot page
Shorebirds: The Delaware Bay Connection (PDF)
Facts about horseshoe crabs (PDF)
Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Conservation Business Strategy
Bandedbirds.org, for shorebirds with colored bands/lettered flags
Ebird.org, for bird sightings
See Ebird map for all red knot subspecies