Red Knot Research & Protection
on Kiawah Island
The SC Coastal Bird Conservation’s (SCCBC) third project took place on Kiawah Island and focused on the protection, education, and research of the federally threatened Red Knot.
Recent research estimated over 17,000 Red Knots utilize the Kiawah-Seabrook Island complex for an average of 47 days between February and May, making this area a critical spring stopover site for this migratory shorebird that has declined over 85% in recent decades.
Red Knots undertake astounding migrations every year, some flying nearly 19,000 miles from their wintering grounds, as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, to their breeding grounds above the Arctic circle. During spring migration, it is imperative shorebirds have undisturbed places to rest and to prepare for the next long flight north and the most important part of their annual cycle – breeding, nesting and producing the next generation. On Kiawah Island, knots rest at high tide at Captain Sams Inlet and at low tide feed on the abundant coquina clams that live at the surf zone. On these beaches they transition into breeding plumage and build muscle and fat reserves that fuel their next flight.
With its wide beach, numerous amenities for tourists and residents, Kiawah Island has an ever-growing number of beach visitors that are often unaware of the birds that live and depend on the shore. To address this, SCDNR partnered with the town of Kiawah, Beachwalker County Park, and volunteer shorebird stewards to raise awareness of and reduce disturbance to knots.
SCDNR hired a Red Knot Steward, Aubrey Anthony, to educate beachgoers on weekends and holidays. Equipped with optics and visual aids, Aubrey spoke to beach goers about Red Knot migration and the importance of not disturbing the flocks. The steward interacted with approximately 525 people and prevented 75 disturbances to Red Knot flocks.
A storage box containing laminated informational materials, field optics, steward vests, and signs, was installed in partnership with the county park for volunteer stewards to readily access these resources. 46 volunteers were also on-the-ground stewards of the knots and were coordinated through the town of Kiawah Shorebird Stewardship program and trained under the “FlockWatch Program.” Red Knot educational signs were installed at key locations along Kiawah Island’s 10 miles of beach in collaboration with the town of Kiawah and Beachwalker County Park.
In April 2023, SCDNR biologists deployed 3 satellite transmitters (also funded by the SCCBC) on knots at Kiawah Island. These tags are glued to the bird’s back, have a solar panel energy source, and are anticipated to fall off the birds within 3-4 months of attachment. Satellite tags use orbiting satellites to determine the exact location of a bird at a given point in time. Researchers can access the location data right on their computer.
These tags revealed the migration track and chronology of the knots on their way to nesting grounds. The tags also helped us understand habitat use while they were still in South Carolina and have revealed nesting locations that are valuable to Arctic scientists in Canada. The satellite tag data continue to provide evidence of the critical importance of the coastal southeastern United States as a stopover site for knots.
These projects and partnerships, supported by SCCBC fund, made tangible conservation achievements in the protection of knots and beachgoer’s and biologist’s understanding of the importance of this area for these migratory shorebirds.