Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
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.More ID Info
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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.
- Correlimos Común (Spanish)
- Bécasseau variable (French)
- Cool Facts
- The name Dunlin comes from dunling, the earliest known English name of the species, which dates back at least as far as 1531. Dunling is a compound of the English word dun (meaning gray-brown) and the diminutive -ling. So the name Dunlin essentially means “little brown job.”
- Shorebird hybrids are very rare, but careful observation by birders have turned up hybrids between Dunlin and at least two other arctic-nesting species: White-rumped Sandpiper and Purple Sandpiper.
- Dunlin breeding in northern Alaska apparently move westward, skipping the rest of North America and migrating down the eastern side of Siberia to Japan and China.
- The oldest recorded Dunlin was at least 12 years, 5 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California.