Calidris alpina


The dunlin is a small sandpiper which feeds in winter flocks along the coast and roosts in nearby fields and saltmarshes. It breeds in the uplands of the UK with large numbers in the Western and Northern Isles of Scotland and the Pennines in England. It can be found at the coast all year round, preferring estuaries, where it seeks out insects, worms and molluscs to eat.

How to identify

Sandpipers can be a difficult group of birds to get to grips with. The dunlin is unmistakeable in its summer plumage: adults are brick-red above, with a black belly patch. In its winter plumage, the dunlin is grey above and white underneath and therefore looks very like the sanderling, although it is a little smaller and has a longer decurved bill,

Where to find it

A common winter visitor to our coasts. Nests on upland moors and bogs in England, Scotland and Wales and on coastal grasslands around the west coast of Scotland.


When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

How can people help

The winter and breeding populations of dunlin are important in the UK but both have declined recently as coastal habitats come under threat from development, pollution and changing land use. To keep populations of wading birds healthy we need to ensure that our marine environment is managed properly. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives from coast to deep sea. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Latin name
Calidris alpina
Wading birds
Length: 16-22cm Wingspan: 40cm Weight: 48g Average Lifespan: 5 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.