Dunlin

Calidris alpina

16-20cm

Appearance

Multiple races can be present in the region, so there are variations in the length of bill, overall size and the vividness of of breeding plumage. Its legs are black and its bill has a slight downward curve. The male is marked more distinctly than the female. In summer, the back is reddish-brown, the underparts whitish with a black section on the belly. In winter, birds are mostly greyish with white underparts. When flying, there's a white bar on the wings and white sections bordering the rump. During autumn, juveniles are reddish-brown with black, white-edged feathers on the back, their underparts whitish with black flecks, and their heads and necks are streaky and brown.

Habitat

Places such as damp upland moors and saltmarshes are common habitats. May also visit estuaries, mudflats, coastal pools and shallow inland water.

Character

Forms large flocks outside breeding season; they fly in tight patterns, changing from white to grey as they move in the sky. When feeding, can appear tense and bundled up, its head lowered. Males have an aerial ritual when breeding; he flies high and hovers before drifting to the ground, his wings in a 'V'. Often associates with the Golden Plover on breeding grounds, because this bird has a call of alarm that alerts the Dunlin to danger.

Food

Probes mud while wading to find food. Diet includes beetles, fly larvae, molluscs, small crustaceans and worms.

Breeding

Female lays 4 eggs in May; these are most often incubated by the male at daytime and the female by night for 21 days. Females may abandon first clutch to lay another. Young can feed themselves straight away and can fly at about 20 days, signalling their independence.

Population

A migrant bird though some are in the region year-round. Greenland birds pass through on their migration, while birds from Iceland, northern Europe and Russia turn up in autumn for the British and Irish winter. More than 10 000 pairs breed in the UK and less than 200 in Ireland, though UK numbers are boosted to around 360 000 in winter and 88 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Can usually be found in generous numbers on estuaries when not in breeding season. It is worth studying the variances in seasonal plumages and the differences between races, if only to lessen the chance of confusing this species with another.

Voice

Has a raspy 'treep' in flight, and a series of trills and whistles when displaying.
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