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Basic Description

Dazzling in its breeding finery, with vivid rusty back and black belly patch, the Dunlin was once called the Red-backed Sandpiper. It’s now named for its nonbreeding plumage, a mousy gray-brown or “dun” color. Dunlin are an abundant species that nests around the world’s arctic regions. They winter in large flocks along bays, estuaries, and coastlines. They have notably long, curved bills but they don’t probe deeply into mud; instead they tend to feed on invertebrates just barely below the surface.

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Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

During the nonbreeding season, Dunlin are among the most widespread of the North American shorebirds, readily found in coastal areas. In spring, fall, and winter, thousands gather on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts to feed as the tide falls, exposing mudflats. It is a good idea to check the tide tables before setting out to search. A spotting scope is also useful to distinguish them from the many similar (but smaller) sandpipers known as “peeps.” Dunlin pass over most of the continent on migration, so any wetland with exposed muddy margins, sewage treatment plant, or muddy, harvested farm field could host a few during migration.

Other Names

  • Correlimos Común (Spanish)
  • Bécasseau variable (French)
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