The red knot is a long-distance migrant, covering between 5,000 and 15,000 kilometres, and stopping at least once along the way to feed and build up body fat and protein stores. It probes amongst the sand of estuaries and on shorelines for intertidal invertebrates, mainly small molluscs, but feeds also on crustaceans, horseshoe crab eggs and insects. Molluscs are ingested whole and cracked with their muscular gizzard. The size of its gizzard varies flexibly throughout the year, as a consequence of energetic demands and food quality. Red knots have unique sensory organs in their bill tips enabling them to detect buried prey without touching them, via water pressure differences in the sediment (comparable to the echolocation of bats). Knots often form mixed species flocks with other shorebird species such as godwits (Limosa species), dunlins (Calidris alpina) and dowitchers (Limnodromus species).
Breeding in the tundra of the Arctic Circle, the red knot constructs a nest in a dip between lichen-covered rocks and lays three to four buff-coloured eggs spotted with brown. Both sexes incubate the eggs for 21 to 22 days, but the female departs immediately after hatching. The male takes care of the chicks up to fledging, which takes 18 to 20 days, and then leaves the tundra before the young, to head south to the wintering grounds. At the tundra, knots eat insects, beetles, spiders, small crustaceans, snails and worms.