One of the most treasured shorebirds to Kiawah residents is the spring-time arrival of the Red Knots, a 9- to 10-inch tall, cinnamon colored Sandpiper. Although precise identification of Sandpiper species can be challenging, the tell-tale sign for the Red Knots is in the way they arrive on Kiawah, in large flocks. Red Knots have relatively small heads, tapered beaks, and chunky bodies. These highly endangered birds summer in the Canadian Arctic Tundra and migrate to the Southern tip of South America for winter, over a 9,000-mile one-way trip. This is one of the longest migration distances of any animal on Earth. Kiawah provides a quiet, safe spot for the birds to rest up and refuel as they continue on their adventurous journey back and forth each year.
The population of Red Knots declined about 75% in the 1980’s due to the overharvesting of their primary food source, horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay. This is a critically sensitive area since 90% of the red knot population stopover in Delaware Bay in early May on their journey north. As awareness about the plight of the Red Knots grew, steps were taken to fix this problem, mostly by protecting spawning horseshoe crabs and habitat. If you’re visiting Kiawah between March and May, you might find these birds sticking their beaks in the sand searching for horseshoe crab eggs and little clams. Enjoy watching them as you respect their space allowing them to find the rest and nourishment they need for their incredible journey.
Photo by Shauneen Hutchinson