Key facts

Scientific name: Calidris alpina
Status: Winter visitor and passage migrant, scarce breeder

Breeding pairs: 8,600 – 10,600

Wintering birds: 360,000

Conservation status: Amber
Length: 16 – 22 cm
Wingspan: 33 – 40 cm
Weight: 33 – 85 g


In breeding plumage dunlins have reddish-brown underparts with black, grey, white and chestnut markings. Their wing coverts are grey to brown with pale grey fringes. Flight feathers are dark brown and their rump and sides of tail are grey-brown.

Dunlins have white chins and necks slightly streaked with dark brown. They have large black patches on their bellies and their underwing and undertail are white.

Dunlins have a streaked black and brown crown with a white supercilium and pale, streaky ear coverts. They have black bills which can vary in length and curve downwards. Their eyes are dark brown and legs and feet are black.

In non-breeding plumage dunlins are duller with a grey-brown crown and white underparts. Male and female dunlins look similar but females are larger with longer bills.

Juvenile dunlins have pale buff streaked breasts and black spots on their white bellies.


Dunlins nest on the ground in vegetation. Male dunlins will prepare several nests by making a shallow scrape lined with leaves and grass and the female chooses one which she helps to finish building.

Dunlins lay 4 pale olive eggs with dark brown spots which are incubated by both male and female for 20-22 days. The chicks leave the nest soon after hatching but rely on their parents until they fledge after about 20 days.


Dunlins forage in open mud near the water’s edge. It eats insects, snails, worms, crustaceans, plant material and occasionally small fish.


Where to see them

Dunlins can be seen all year round in the UK and on breeding grounds from April to July. They breed in uplands of England, Wales and Scotland and during the winter are found in all UK estuaries.


Jarek Matusiak/xeno-canto

Did you know?

There are at least 11 subspecies of dunlin and although 3 of these subspecies visits the UK at different times, only one breeds here.

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