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The Red Knot is a medium-sized shorebird with a small head, straight black bill (tapering from thick base to thinner tip) and long tapered wings, giving an elongated streamlined profile to the body. Red Knots in breeding plumage have a rufous-red face, breast and belly. The islandica Red Knots have more vivid breeding colours than the rufa subspecies of Red Knot.

Weight: 135 g (5 oz). Length: 23 to 25 cm (9 to 10 in).

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The Red Knot islandica subspecies is one of two subspecies of Red Knot known to breed in Canada; the other is the rufa subspecies. The islandica subspecies breeds on the high Arctic islands north of Banks Island and winters in northwest Europe.

Range map information

During the breeding season in the Arctic, Red Knots use dry vegetated and barren habitats such as windswept ridges, slopes or plateaus. Their nests are usually placed in a small patch of vegetation within about 500 m of a pond, wetland or waterbody. Nests are extremely hard to find because knots are well camouflaged and are reluctant to flush from the nest, even when approached at close distances.

Red Knots typically arrive on the breeding grounds from late-May to early-June and begin laying their clutch of four eggs by mid to late-June. The eggs are incubated for a period of 21 to 23 days before the chick hatch in mid-July.

To prepare for migration to their breeding grounds, Red Knots undergo dramatic physiological changes that increase flying efficiency. Parts of their body used for flying (heart and flight muscles) increase in size, and parts not useful for flight (digestive system) decrease in size to reduce weight. Once they arrive on their breeding grounds, their reproductive organs increase in size and their heart and flight muscles return to normal.


The Red Knot islandica subspecies population declined since the 1980s due to a decrease in food resources on their wintering grounds.  However, the population has stabilized and former threats from shellfish harvesting in Europe have been reduced. These factors led to an improved status for Red Knot islandica in its most recent assessment.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include breeding habitat degradation from threats like climate change and industrial development, as well as direct disturbance at nest sites from human activities, such as resource exploration and development.

COSEWIC assessed Red Knot islandica subspecies as Special Concern in 2007 because of population decline and threats on the wintering grounds. In 2020, they re-assessed it as Not at Risk. Red Knot islandica subspecies was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2012. A national recovery strategy and management plan for Red Knot is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.

Red Knots and their nests are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.