Red Knots Return to Islands for Winter
The wintering season for shorebirds is in full swing, and many species are spending their time resting and foraging on Sanibel and Captiva. While some are uncommon, beachgoers are sure to spot a common, somewhat permanent wintering species: the red knot (Calidris canutus rufa).
The red knot is a rotund yet well-proportioned shorebird, similar to a short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus). It bears a striking terracotta-colored plumage during breeding season and, like most shorebirds, molts into a drab, non-distinct gray-and-white plumage for the wintering months. Overall, red knot populations across the globe have been declining due to habitat loss, human disturbance, and declines in prey availability. Habitat loss especially affects red knots due to the necessity of migratory stopover spots. Some knots fly 9,000 miles or more to their wintering and nesting grounds, so they need lots of good habitat along the way to regain their energy.
Some red knots are banded by researchers to track movement and survival of adult populations. Recently, there have been sightings of two knots that were banded on Sanibel in 2007. Red Knot TJ4 was spotted on Sanibel and Red Knot CE4 was found at Bunche Beach. TJ4 hasn’t been observed on the island since 2010 and CE4 hasn’t been seen as far south as Sanibel/Bunche Beach since 2013.
You can help these birds—and all their wintering friends—have a safe and successful winter by keeping your dogs leashed, never chasing or feeding wildlife, picking up trash, and giving them plenty of space to rest and forage on our shores.