When a typical jumper skips: Itineraries and staging habitats used by Red Knots (Calidris canutus piersmai) migrating between northwest Australia and the New Siberian Islands

Theunis Piersma*, Eva M. A. Kok, Chris J. Hassell, He-Bo Peng, Yvonne I. Verkuil, Guangchun Lei, Julia Karagicheva, Eldar Rakhimberdiev, Paul W. Howey, T. Lee Tibbitts, Ying-Chi Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The ecological reasons for variation in avian migration, with some populations migrating across thousands of kilometres between breeding and non-breeding areas with one or few refuelling stops, in contrast to others that stop more often, remain to be pinned down. Red Knots Calidris canutus are a textbook example of a shorebird species that makes long migrations with only a few stops. Recognizing that such behaviours are not necessarily species-specific but determined by ecological context, we here provide a description of the migrations of a relatively recently described subspecies (piersmai). Based on data from tagging of Red Knots on the terminal non-breeding grounds in northwest Australia with 4.5- and 2.5-g solar-powered Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTTs) and 1.0-g geolocators, we obtained information on 19 route-records of 17 individuals, resulting in seven complete return migrations. We confirm published evidence that Red Knots of the piersmai subspecies migrate from NW Australia and breed on the New Siberian Islands in the Russian Arctic and that they stage along the coasts of southeastern Asia, especially in the northern Yellow Sea in China. Red Knots arrived on the tundra breeding grounds from 8 June onwards. Southward departures mainly occurred in the last week of July and the first week of August. We documented six non-stop flights of over c. 5000 km (with a maximum of 6500 km, lasting 6.6 days). Nevertheless, rather than staging at a single location for multiple weeks halfway during migration, piersmai-knots made several stops of up to a week. This was especially evident during northward migration, when birds often stopped along the way in southeast Asia and 'hugged' the coast of China, thus flying an additional 1000-1500 km compared with the shortest possible (great circle route) flights between NW Australia and the Yellow Sea. The birds staged longest in areas in northern China, along the shores of Bohai Bay and upper Liaodong Bay, where the bivalve Potamocorbula laevis, known as a particularly suitable food for Red Knots, was present. The use of multiple food-rich stopping sites during northward migration by piersmai is atypical among subspecies of Red Knots. Although piersmai apparently has the benefit of multiple suitable stopping areas along the flyway, it is a subspecies in decline and their mortality away from the NW Australian non-breeding grounds has been elevated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1251
Number of pages17
Issue number4
Early online date26-May-2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2021


  • East&#8208
  • Asian Australasian Flyway
  • migration
  • population regulation
  • seasonal timing
  • shorebirds
  • staging
  • SIZE
  • FOOD
  • SITE


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