great knot

The great knot is the largest of the calidrid species. It breeds in the Arctic, in north eastern Siberia and migrates to southern Asia, the Phillipines and northern Australia. A few reach New Zealand every year.

Great Knots are gregarious and are often found in mixed flocks. The species has also been reported to eat seeds, berries and insects at its breeding grounds in Siberia. Great Knots breed on mountaintops in eastern Siberia, and also in Korea and China. In non-breeding areas the Great Knot is mostly found in coastal habitats that comprise large areas of bare or sparsely vegetated intertidal mudflats or sandflats. They are rarely found on inland wetlands and do not favour sandy beaches.

They use a limited number of staging sites on the annual round trip between their breeding grounds and non-breeding areas in Australasia and Asia. This species adopts a ‘long jump’ strategy where they fly non–stop from Australia through to China’s Yellow Sea Region. The migration route used by these birds is known as the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. The first birds arrive in Australia in October – November. They begin their northern migration in March – April before refuelling in the northern Yellow Sea and departing for the breeding grounds in late May.

The great knot is easily confused with it cousin the red knot which also migrates to New Zealand but in much larger numbers. Great knots are always longer-billed than red knots, and have a whitish rump that shows up in flight. In non-breeding plumage they have bolder chevrons down their sides, more dark markings on the breast, a less cleanly marked supercilium, heavier streaking on the forehead, and the feathers of the upperparts are browner with darker centres than those of the smooth grey red knots. Great knots look less uniform above as a consequence. In breeding plumage there is no room for confusion as great knots have a gorget of black spots across the breast, and varying amounts of large red spots and patches on their scapulars.

In the Chinese, North Korean and South Korean regions of the Yellow Sea which are a major stopover areas, the species is threatened by the degradation and loss of wetland habitats through drainage, environmental pollution, reduced river flows and human disturbance.

The Knot forages for food by methodically thrusting its bill deep into the mud searching for invertebrates and crustaceans.

Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Canutus magnus, greater knot, eastern, Asiastic knot, great sandpiper.

Description:  — 

Native bird

27 cm., 160 g., like red knot but larger, heavier longer black bill and white rump, breeding adult has heavily streaked black head and neck, breast heavily blotched redish brown.

Where to find:  — 

Uncommon artic migrant, usually found with red knots.

Youtube video  — 

»»»  Great knot

Illustration description: — 


Mathews, Gregory, The Birds of Australia 1910-28.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.

Page date & version: — 


Monday, 26 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.