Return of the Red Knots

February 11, 2014

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

Occasionally I am fortunate enough to find marked shorebirds on the beach and get photographs clear enough to identify them. Today (Feb. 9, 2014) was one such lucky day when I spent several hours hiking the beach at the northern end of Knight/Palm Island. Bird flocks move around a lot based on disturbance by humans and animals, the stage of the tide, weather, etc. So when I get the opportunity I use my binoculars to scan the legs of the birds looking for bands. The red knot is especially likely to be banded since they are being studied due to a population decline associated with habitat changes and a decrease in their favorite food (horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay) that allows them to re-fuel during migration to the Arctic.

In a single flock of about 40 red knots I spotted two birds marked with light green flags on their legs containing a specific individual code. I entered this information on a website to determine the history of each bird:

Red knot UN4 was an especially interesting case since it was banded Jan. 1, 2007 on Sanibel Island, FL. It has subsequently been re-sighted a total of 8 times on Sanibel, Palm Island, in the FL panhandle, and north of Jacksonville, FL. It appears this may be a knot that winters in FL and migrates to the Arctic to breed. Some fly all the way to southern South America to spend the winter. It is remarkable that this red knot is thus proven to be at least seven years old since it was banded.

Red knot 5A0 was banded Oct. 18, 2011, on the coast of South Carolina. It has been re-sighted five times in SC, Sanibel Island and on Palm Island. It is at least two years old.

I am always dumbfounded by data of this type. It is incredible that we can make such observations on birds, and even more amazing that these shorebirds can survive for so long while making such remarkable migrations. Red knots face many hazards in the natural and human-dominated world. Let us resolve to do what we can to make their struggles easier.

Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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