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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 rufa Red Knot breeding plumage is paler and more "washed out" than the islandica subspecies.

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

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The Red Knot rufa subspecies is one of two subspecies of Red Knot known to breed in Canada; the other is the islandica subspecies. The rufa subspecies breeds in the central Canadian Arctic, potentially including Banks and western Victoria Islands in the NWT. 

COSEWIC recognizes three populations of rufa Red Knots based on widely separated wintering locations, and has assessed the status of each individually. Whether these three populations occupy geographically separate areas when on the Arctic breeding grounds is currently unknown. 

Two Red Knot populations that were formerly considered part of the roselaari subspecies are now thought to be rufa: those wintering in southeastern USA / Gulf of Mexico / Caribbean and in northeastern South America.

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.

Delaware Bay in New Jersey, U.S.A., is a critical stopover site for all three populations of rufa Red Knots during their northward migration. Their migration is timed to coincide with the spawning of horseshoe crabs. Horseshoe crab eggs are a very important food source for migrating rufa Red Knots because the eggs, unlike any other food resource, are immediately metabolized into fat. The birds must eat enough eggs at Delaware Bay to have the fat stores needed to sustain their northward migration to the Arctic breeding grounds. Their body weight can nearly double during this process. 

Overall, populations of rufa Red Knots have declined dramatically since the 1980s due to a decrease in their primary food source at a key stopover site used during migration.


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 rufa subspecies as Endangered in 2007 because of a large population decline and a decrease in their primary food source on their migration route. In 2020, they revisited this subspecies but recognized three populations of rufa Red Knots, and assessed the status of each individually. The population wintering in Tierra del Fuego/Patagonia, and the population wintering in Southeastern USA/Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean, were both assessed as Endangered. The population wintering in Northeastern South America was assessed as Special Concern.

Red Knot rufa subspecies was listed as Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2012. The SARA provides protection for individual rufa Red Knots and their residences. Red Knots and their nests are also protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

A national recovery strategy and management plan for Red Knot is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.