Calidris alpina (Linnaeus, 1758) DN DUNLI 5120
Family: Charadriiformes > Scolopacidae

Dunlin, Edmund Fellowes

The Dunlin’s summer dress (chestnut back and black belly) is very distinctive, but in winter it has muted monochrome colours.

In summer the Dunlin breeds on grassland and moorland, often in company of Golden Plovers, earning it the nickname of ‘Plover’s Page’. In winter it is primarily coastal, where it is our most numerous small wader. Although its plumage is nondescript in winter, its long slightly curved bill helps identify it.

Ringing data show our breeding Dunlin mostly move south to Europe and North Africa in winter; our wintering birds primarily come from eastern Europe and Russia. WeBS counts show that wintering individuals are visiting in decreasing numbers, as climate change means the winter conditions around the Baltic become increasingly less severe.


Dunlin identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Dunlin.

related video

Identifying Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper

In the UK in late Summer some may be daunted by the prospect of identifying individual species in frequent groups of small waders. The key to differing between many of these small, plump birds is to become accustomed with Dunlin first. In this Bird ID video we compare Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper to their more well-recognised cousin.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Dunlin, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Dunlin is a widespread visitor around most of the coast of the UK in winter, present in very large numbers on some estuaries. It has a more restricted distribution as a breeding species in upland areas and in north and west Scotland. The status of Dunlin as a breeding species is uncertain. UK population estimates have been suggest stability with estimates of 9,150–9,900 in the 1980s (Stone et al. 1997) and 8,600–10,500 in 2005–07 (Musgrove et al. 2013). The 2005–07 estimate was repeated in the most recent assessment (APEP4). However, there is evidence from two other sources that declines may have occurred. A survey of nine upland study areas in 2000 and 2002 which re-surveyed sites visited between 1980 and 1991, found that Dunlin had significantly declined in two of the seven study areas for which results for Dunlin could be produced, with no significant increases (Sim et al. 2005). Elsewhere, the population on the machair in the Outer Hebrides, which formerly supported a quarter of the British population, dropped by 50% between 1983 and 2000 and by a further 15% by 2007 (Fuller et al. 2010).


Wintering Dunlins are widely distributed around the coastlines of Britain and Ireland, with the exception of steep rocky shores, as predominate in western Scotland. They also occur regularly in small numbers at inland sites, especially in England. Strongholds for breeding Dunlin are all in Scotland, in the Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides, the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland, the hills of the northwest Highlands and the Grampian Mountains. Further south, good numbers remain in the Pennines, but only a few pairs are to be found in the Southern Uplands, in central Wales and on Dartmoor.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


The Dunlin's winter distribution has changed little since the 1980s whereas the breeding range shows losses in marginal upland areas, particularly in western Ireland, northern England and southern Scotland.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Dunlins are recorded throughout the year with strong cycles of detection associated with pulses of migration as different wintering and breeding populations move through the UK.

Weekly occurence of Dunlin from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Dunlin ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Dunlin, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Gille-feadaig
Welsh: Pibydd Mawn
Catalan: territ variant
Czech: jespák obecný
Danish: Almindelig Ryle
Dutch: Bonte Strandloper
Estonian: soorüdi e. soorisla
Finnish: suosirri
French: Bécasseau variable
German: Alpenstrandläufer
Hungarian: havasi partfutó
Icelandic: Lóuþræll
Irish: Breacóg
Italian: Piovanello pancianera
Latvian: parastais šnibitis
Lithuanian: juodakrutis begikas
Norwegian: Myrsnipe
Polish: biegus zmienny
Portuguese: pilrito-de-peito-preto
Slovak: pobrežník ciernozobý
Slovenian: spremenljivi prodnik
Spanish: Correlimos común
Swedish: kärrsnäppa
Folkname: Plover's Page, Tang Snipe


Interpretation and scientific publications about Dunlin from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

In the Hebrides, predation by introduced hedgehogs has been a driver of declines (Jackson & Green 2000). Habitat loss is believed to have caused declines elsewhere, in particular the planting of forestry on moorland (Lavers & Haines-Young 1997).


Peer-reviewed papers
A Redshank perched on a fencepost with its bill open photographed by Philip Croft

Changes in breeding wader populations of the Uist machair and adjacent habitats between 1983 and 2022

Study shows 25% decline in breeding waders between 1983 and 2022

2023 | Calladine, J., Fuller, R., Hodkinson, D., Franks, S. & Boyle, J.Scottish Birds

Peer-reviewed papers
Avocet - Amy Lewis

Consequences of population change for local abundance and site occupancy of wintering waterbirds

Wavering Waterbirds

2017 | Méndez, V., Gill, J.A., Alves, J.A., Burton, N.H.K. & Davies, R.G.Diversity and Distributions

Protected sites are assigned based on population statistics for vulnerable and endangered species. This new study using WeBS data shows that changes in population size can affect local abundance, and thus influence whether or not key targets are met for site protection.

Peer-reviewed papers

Continuing influences of introduced hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus as a predator of wader (Charadrii) eggs four decades after their release on the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

2017 | Calladine, J., Humphreys, E.M., Gilbert, L., Furness, R.W., Robinson, R.A., Fuller, R.J., Littlewood, N.A., Pakeman, R.J., Ferguson, J. & Thompson, C.Biological Invasions

Non-native predators can cause major declines or even localised extinctions in prey populations across the globe, especially on islands.

Peer-reviewed papers
Curlew. Liz Cutting

Long term changes in the abundance of benthic foraging birds in a restored wetland

2021 | Mander, L., Scapin, L., Thaxter, C.B., Forster, R. & Burton, N.H.K.Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Research Reports
Dunlin by Edmund Fellowes

Sensitivity mapping for breeding waders in Britain: towards producing zonal maps to guide wader conservation, forest expansion and other land-use changes. Report with specific data for Northumberland and north-east Cumbria

Sensitivity mapping for breeding waders

2021 | O’Connell, P., Wilson, M., Wetherhill, A. & Calladine, J.British Trust for Ornithology Research Report

Models to be used towards the development of tools to guide, inform and minimise conflict between wader conservation and forest expansion.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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