Scientific name: Calidris canutus
IUCN designation: Near Threatened
Canadian subspecies: Calidris canutus rufa
SARA designation: Endangered
COSEWIC designation: Endangered
The endangered Canadian subspecies of the Red Knot, Calidris canutus rufa, has come to attention in recent years given its 70% decline in abundance in a span of 15 years as of 20161.
The rufa Red Knot is part of the sandpiper family, therefore having typical sandpiper characteristics: long streamlined bodies, long legs, long narrow bills to probe for food2. It is often described as robin-sized, reaching 23-25 cm (9-10 in) in length and having a wingspan ranging from 51-58 cm (20-23 in)3.
Its plumage differs seasonally. The Knot has a dull grey plumage during winter and rusty red plumage on its chest and face with mottled brown scaling feathers on its head, hind neck, and wings4.
The rufa Red Knot completes a long strenuous migration every year starting from its breeding areas in the central Canadian Arctic to its wintering areas in the US Gulf Coast, the Caribbean and South America, making several stopovers along the way at traditional staging grounds along the US East Coast and South America. They can cover up to 15000 km (9300 mi) during their migration1.
Survival of the rufa Red Knot is dependent primarily on the management of their food source, the Horseshoe Crab. Millions of eggs which are eaten to refuel energy for migration are laid in Delaware Bay in synchrony with the Red Knot’s arrival in May5. The rufa Red Knot is also dependent on the mitigation of disturbance and degradation of its breeding, stopover and wintering habitats that are affected by urban development and climate change6.
Several governmental and nongovernmental organizations and educational institutions are working to study and eliminate threats to the Red Knot sites in both continents to conserve the declining populations.