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Dunlin - BirdForum Opus

C. a. alpina summer adult. Bright; short-billed.
Photo © by Stein Nilsen
Svalbard, Norway, 3 August 2012
Calidris alpina


Length 17–21 cm (6¾-8¼ in), wingspan 32–36 cm, weight 33–85 g
Black bill, with de-curved tip; black legs.

Adult winter
Photo © by Andy Hall
Texel, Netherlands, 17 October 2016


  • Crown and upperparts rufous, streaked darker
  • Wings: greyish brown, with pale bar and dark tips
  • White sides to rump and tail
  • White breast with darker streaks
  • Black belly
  • White undertail coverts


  • Rufous areas become grey and belly all white


  • Similar to summer adult above but fringes less rufous; underparts pale buff breast grading to white belly with blackish streaks on breast and flanks


Breeding birds from northern Europe and Asia winter in western and southern Europe, Africa, and southern Asia. Those that breed in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic move down to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America.


Photo © by CJW
Smeale, Isle of Man, 31 July 2004

Most closely related to the Purple SandpiperRock Sandpiper species pair, and after them, to Sanderling[1].


Juvenile in flight
Photo © by mali
Elmley Marshes, Kent, 15 September 2016

Clements recognizes these subspecies[2]:

  • C. a. arcticola:
  • C. a. pacifica:
  • C. a. hudsonia:
  • C. a. arctica:
  • C. a. schinzii:
  • C. a. alpina:
  • C. a. centralis:
  • C. a. sakhalina:
  • C. a. actites:
  • Northern Sakhalin; wintering grounds unknown
  • C. a. kistchinskii:
  • Sea of Okhotsk to Kuril Islands; wintering grounds unknown

Subspecies C. a. centralis was formerly included in alpina by some authorities.

The subspecies are distinguishable by bill length, and intensity of colour of the summer plumage. Winter and juvenile plumage birds are often not reliably distinguishable to subspecies, with only bill length differing.


Breeds on low or high ground, in wet short-grass or tundra habitats; on migration (in autumn, adults in late July-August, juveniles in late August-October), found in a variety of marshy or coastal habitats, but most numerous on tidal flats or on banks of seaweed on shallow shores.

Coastal mudflats and beaches.


Click images to see larger version


They form huge winter flocks, mainly on tidal mudflats (less often in freshwater), often mixing with Ringed Plover, Red Knot, and other Calidris species.


The diet includes insects, snails and worms.


They nest in a shallow scrape on the ground lined with vegetation. The 4 eggs are incubated by both adults. The male cares for the young.


Song: a trill.
Flight Call: treep or chreet Listen to Dunlin sound clip


  1. Gibson, R., & Baker, A. (2012). Multiple gene sequences resolve phylogenetic relationships in the shorebird suborder Scolopaci (Aves: Charadriiformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 64: 66-72.
  2. Clements, J. F., P. C. Rasmussen, T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, A. Spencer, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2023. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2023. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  3. Gill, F, D Donsker, and P Rasmussen (Eds). 2023. IOC World Bird List (v 13.2). Doi 10.14344/IOC.ML.13.2. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  4. [ https://avibase.ca/15369E8E Avibase]
  5. Wikipedia contributors. (2020, February 1). Dunlin. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:40, February 22, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dunlin&oldid=938657234
  6. Fitter, R. S. R. (1966). Pocket Guide to British Birds. London: Collins. ISBN 0 00 212019 4
  7. Grant, P.J., K. Mullarney, L. Svensson, D. Zetterstrom (1999) Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Harpercollins Pub Ltd ISBN 0 00 219728 6
  8. Warnock, N. D. and R. E. Gill (1996). Dunlin (Calidris alpina), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.203
  9. Van Gils, J., Wiersma, P. & Boesman, P. (2020). Dunlin (Calidris alpina). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53938 on 22 February 2020).
  10. Chandler, R. (2009). Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia: A photographic guide. Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 1 40 810790 2

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