Knot Calidris canutus

The knot is a medium-sized, plump wader that is longer and bulkier than sanderling or dunlin. Knots are usually seen overwintering in the UK in non-breeding plumage. Non-breeding adults and juveniles have a pale grey crown and lightly mottled grey breast and flanks. This makes it difficult to distinguish between this species and other waders such as dunlin. Their bill is coloured dark-brown or black and is powerful, short and straight. During the breeding season, adults are easy to identify in mixed flocks as they have a rust-coloured face, chest and undersides. The back of the knot’s head, body and wings are speckled black and brick-red, and medium-length dark legs.


Knots characteristically form large tightly packed flocks at their main wintering sites. They advance like a moving grey carpet and jostle shoulder-to-shoulder feeding on invertebrates and molluscs. Special sensory organs at the tip of their bills, called herbst corpuscles, alert them to differences in pressure, helping them to detect buried prey.

The knot breeds high in the Arctic. Males arrive before females and construct three to five nest scrapes in their territories. Once the females arrive, they lay three to four eggs, and after an incubation period of about 22 days, the chicks hatch and move away from the nest within 24 hours. The female leaves before the young fledge while the males stay on, and begin their migration south. The young make their first migration on their own.


  • Length 23-25cm
  • Wingspan 45-59cm
  • Weight: 120-200g
  • Average Lifespan: 7-8 years


Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


Internationally important populations of knot regularly occur on the north Solway Firth, Firth of Forth, inner Moray Firth, Cromarty Firth and Montrose Basin.

When to see

Can be found in Scotland throughout the year, but only in small numbers in summer on East coast Scottish estuaries.


  • The knot is a remarkable globetrotter. They can travel up to 15,000 km and lose up to 80% of their body weight during these long flights.
  • Knots ear molluscs whole, including the shells, and then crush them in the muscular part of their stomach, known as the gizzard. Studies have shown that knots have the largest gizzards relative to body mass of any shorebird.

Common name


Species name

Calidris canutus

IUCN Red List status

Near threatened

When to see in Scotland

Can be found in Scotland throughout the year, but only in small numbers in summer on East coast Scottish estuaries.

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Loch Fleet or Montrose Basin.

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