In May 1990, more than 4500 km away from, and up to three weeks before arriving on their high Arctic breeding grounds, individuals of two subspecies of Knots, Calidris canutus islandica and canutus, showed ground display and song whilst foraging in flocks on the tidal flats in the Wadden Sea of Schleswig-Holstein, FRG. Similar displays and songs were recorded in May 1987 and 1988 on the staging areas of C.c. islandica in northwest Iceland. The display behaviour, identified as the 'tail-up display', is probably performed only by males towards females, and occurs commonly just after arrival at the tundra breeding sites. Tail-up displays may result in copulations both on the staging and on the breeding sites. On the staging sites, tail-up displays were most frequent in the days prior to the departure of flocks to a subsequent stopover area (Iceland) or for presumed direct flights to the Canadian and the Siberian Arctic. Our observations suggest that the behavioural condition required for reproduction may, at least in males, develop some weeks before the actual arrival in the breeding areas.