Dotterel

Charadrius morinellus

20-22cm

Appearance

This is a finely marked mountain wader that is quite stout in stature. The winter plumage differs from the summer, and female's markings are more obvious than the male's. During the summer, the breast is chestnut and separated from the lower blue-grey throat by a white band with a black border. Upperparts are grey-brown (the feathers tipped in brown), the crown is dark, legs are yellow, undertail is white, and there are thick white stripes above the eyes that converge at the back of the head. The autumn and winter adult is grey-buff, the eye-stripe and breast-band more subtle. Juveniles are similar to winter adults; the upperparts are well-marked, the stripe over the eyes is cream-coloured and the breast-band is more subtle.

Habitat

In Britain, most common in the Scottish Highlands. Lives in mountains no less than 1000m high, with wide plateaux and scattered areas of moss, short grass, sedges, bilberry, heather and lichens.

Character

Often quite trusting of humans, this is one of 22 species in the world in which the male performs majority of the incubation; he also does most of the raising of the young after the female's early departure, when she often goes to other territories to raise a second brood. Female performs a displaying flight similar to the movements of a butterfly.

Food

Diet includes spiders, worms, beetles, weevils, sawflies and craneflies, including their larvae.

Breeding

Nesting starts around the middle of May; the male incubates 2 or 3 eggs for 24-28 days. Hatchlings have a layer of down and can feed themselves, though the male still tends to them. Young can fly after about 25-30 days and are quickly independent.

Population

Majority of British birds travel to Africa for the winter, and migrant visitors are rare. During April and May, small groups of birds called 'trips' make stops at traditional sites in the Low Countries. Breeding birds return to territories when the snow begins to thaw and they depart in July or the beginning of August. In strong years, 500-750 breeding males are recorded in Britain.

Observation Tips

Though these birds may seem tolerant of humans, they must not be disturbed at nests, for they're just as vulnerable as any other species. The mountainous breeding habitats make viewing difficult, but with the help of county bird reports, visit a documented stop-off point during spring migration.

Voice

Has a gentle 'pierrr' call, or a 'wet-e-wee' if alarmed.
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