Birds: The Knot (Cnota, Calidris canutus)

The Knot is a winter visitor to Ireland, arriving here from its high Arctic breeding grounds from late-August onwards. It can take a bit of practice to separate it from the other small wader species that visit our beaches, estuaries and mudflats, but with experience it becomes quite distinctive.

At 24cm in length, the Knot is larger than the Dunlin but smaller than the Redshank, two common species with which it often associates. Most frequently encountered in large flocks, often numbering several thousand birds, it appears dumpier than most other small waders, with a plump body, relatively short neck and bill and medium-length chunky, yellowish legs. In winter plumage it is dark grey above and pale below, with greyish streaking on the breast and flanks and a pale stripe over each eye. In breeding plumage, rarely seen in Ireland, it looks quite different: brick-red with a grey back spangled with orange and black.The Knot

Most often seen either probing coastal mudflats for small shellfish, snails, worms and other invertibrates or roosting in tightly-packed groups along rocky shorelines, seawalls and shingle banks, they are wary birds and generally do not tolerate close approach. Most of those that visit Irish shores have come from northern Canada and from Iceland.

As is particularly evident from its scientific name, the species is named after King Canute, the early 11th-century Viking ruler of England and much of Scandinavia who, wanting to demonstrate to flattering followers how powerless he really was in the face of nature, sat on his throne on a beach and ordered the waves to retreat. With its habit of foraging on mudflats, seemingly in defiance of incoming tides, the Knot became associated with Canute, whose name is written "Knut" in Norwegian.

Niall Hatch

More For information on the international importance of Ireland's wetlands for wading birds, where to go to see the various different species, or how to join BirdWatch Ireland and support their conservation work, please call 01 2819878, email, visit or write to BirdWatch Ireland at PO Box 12, Greystones, Co Wicklow