An adult Dunlin in breeding plumage shows the distinctive black belly which no other similar-sized wader possesses. The winter Dunlin is basically grey above and white below. Juveniles are brown above with two whitish `V` shapes on the back. They usually have black marks on the flanks or belly and show a strong white wingbar in flight. The legs and slightly decurved bill are black. There are a number of subspecies differing mainly in the extent of rufous coloration in the breeding plumage and the bill length. It should, however, be noted that bill length varies between sexes, the females having longer bills than the males.

Habitat and Distribution

It is a circumpolar breeder in Arctic or subarctic regions. Birds that breed in northern Europe and Asia are long-distance migrants, wintering south to Africa, southeast Asia and the Middle East. Birds that breed in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic migrate short distances to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, although those nesting in Northern Alaska overwinter in Asia. Many Dunlins winter along the Iberian south coast.


The Dunlin moves along the coastal mudflat beaches it prefers with a characteristic `sewing machine` feeding action, methodically picking small food eats mollusks, worms and crustaceans in coastal areas.


The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with vegetation, into which typically 4 eggs are laid and incubated by the male and female parents. Chicks are precocial, however are brooded during early development. They start to fly at approximately three weeks of age.

Calls and Songs

The call is a typical sandpiper `peep`, and the display song a harsh trill.