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Species Guide
A photo of a Dunlin (Calidris alpina)


Calidris alpina

The Dunlin, Calidris alpina, is a small wader, often seen bustling along shorelines with a characteristic "sewing machine" feeding action. In its breeding plumage, it is easily identified by its distinctive black belly patch, a feature unique among waders of similar size. Outside the breeding season, it adopts a more subdued grey and white plumage. Juveniles can be recognized by their brown feathers with whitish "V" shapes on the back.

Identification Tips

Adult Dunlins in breeding attire sport a striking black belly that sets them apart from other waders. In winter, they turn grey above and white below. Look for the strong white wingbar in flight, and note the black legs and slightly down-curved bill. The bill, while appearing sharp in deceased specimens, is actually blunt at the tip in living birds, equipped with a sensitive probe for detecting invertebrates.


Dunlins favor coastal mudflats and sandy beaches, where they can be observed in large, sociable flocks, especially outside the breeding season.


This circumpolar species breeds in Arctic or subarctic regions. European and Asian populations are long-distance migrants, wintering as far south as Africa and the Middle East. North American populations tend to migrate shorter distances to coastal areas.


Dunlins exhibit strong philopatry, with individuals often returning to their natal areas to breed. They are highly gregarious in winter and can be seen in large flocks, sometimes performing synchronized aerial displays.

Song & Calls

The Dunlin's call is a typical sandpiper "peep," while its display song is a harsh trill.


Nests are shallow ground scrapes lined with vegetation. Both parents incubate the typically four-egg clutch. Chicks are precocial but require brooding early on. Flight is achieved around three weeks, with the male providing most of the brood care post-hatching.

Similar Species

The Dunlin can be confused with other small waders, but its breeding plumage and feeding behavior are distinctive. Hybrids with the White-rumped Sandpiper and the Purple Sandpiper have been reported.

Diet and Feeding

On breeding grounds, Dunlins primarily consume insects. During the rest of the year, their diet includes molluscs, worms, and crustaceans.

Conservation Status

The Dunlin is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with a very large range and population size. It is protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Dunlin Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Dunlin Fun Facts

Did you know?
The Dunlin's name refers to the bird's habitat; with dun meaning hill and linne meaning pond or pool.

Dunlins on Birda


More Sandpipers, Snipes

A photo of a Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos
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