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Sandpipers and allies

Winter-plumaged sanderling running along wet beach

Image: Nigel Blake

The sandpipers form a large group within the 'waders' or shorebirds, with several distinct sub-groups. 

Sandpipers are small to medium-sized, quite long-billed birds, from stints and dunlin types to long-legged ‘shanks’ and 'true' sandpipers, including the green sandpiper. Generally shoreline birds, some wading in shallow water, while others feed on rocky shores. 

Godwits are larger, longer-legged, longer-billed. 

Curlews and whimbrels, of which there are several species worldwide, have downcurved bills and mottled brown plumage. Many of these waders are among the world’s greatest long-distance migrants, travelling annually from the Arctic to the southernmost tips of South America, Africa and Australia.

Bar-tailed godwit

A long-billed, long-legged wading bird which visits UK shores for the winter. Most usually seen in its grey-brown winter plumage, birds in spring may show their full rich chestnut breeding plumage. ... More...

Bar-tailed godwit

Black-tailed godwit

Black-tailed godwits are large wading birds. In summer, they have bright orangey-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they’re more greyish-brown. Their most distinctive features are their long beak... More...

Black-tailed godwit

Common sandpiper

A smallish wader with contrasting brown upperparts and white underparts. It habitually bobs up and down, known as 'teetering', and has a distinctive flight with stiff, bowed wings. Its presence is o... More...

Common sandpiper

Curlew

The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable on winter estuaries or summer moors by its long, downcurved bill, brown upperparts, long legs and evocative call. ... More...

Curlew

Curlew sandpiper

Similar to a dunlin, but in autumn it looks cleaner and paler with a white eyestripe. It has a longer, more down-curved bill than a dunlin and will feed in slightly deeper water. Deep chestnut breed... More...

Curlew sandpiper

Dunlin

The commonest small wader found along the coast. It has a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. It feeds in flocks in winter, sometimes numbering thousands... More...

Dunlin

Green sandpiper

A very contrasting wader which looks like a large house martin in flight. Its dark, almost black upperparts, pale underparts and white rump are distinctive. It frequently bobs up and down when stan... More...

Green sandpiper

Greenshank

A medium-sized slim wader with a dark grey back and white underparts. Its long green legs and slightly up-turned bill help to distinguish it from other waders. It calls regularly and is seen singly an... More...

Greenshank

Grey phalarope

This Arctic-breeding wader sometimes comes to the coasts of the UK after storms. They are most often seen at the coast; around 200 birds per year are seen. Like the other phalarope species, the female... More...

Grey phalarope

Jack snipe

Smaller than snipe with a shorter bill. It is a secretive bird and when approached it tends to crouch down, relying on its camouflaged plumage, only flying at the last minute. It will fly low and rapi... More...

Jack snipe

Knot

The knot is a dumpy, short-legged, stocky wading bird. In winter, It is grey above and white below; in summer the chest, belly and face are brick-red. In flight, it shows a pale rump and a faint wing-... More...

Knot

Little stint

The little stint is a tiny wading bird with a short straight fine black bill and medium-length black legs. It is brownish-grey above (grey in winter) and it is very white underneath. Autumn birds have... More...

Little stint

Pectoral sandpiper

The pectoral sandpiper is a bit larger than a dunlin. It has a brown, streaky breast, white belly and slightly downcurved bill, and yellow-brown legs. The brown breastband (which gives the species its... More...

Pectoral sandpiper

Purple sandpiper

The purple sandpiper is a medium-sized wading birds that is larger, stockier and darker than a dunlin. It is mainly dark grey above and whitish below. It has a downcurved beak and short bright orange ... More...

Purple sandpiper

Red-necked phalarope

These small, delicate waders are adapted well to spending a lot of time on water. Unlike other waders, phalaropes have lobed toes which enable them to swim strongly when on pools or out at sea. They s... More...

Red-necked phalarope

Redshank

As its name suggests, redshanks' most distinctive features are their bright orange-red legs. They have a medium-length bill with an orange base to match, brown speckled back and wings and paler belly.... More...

Redshank

Ruff

The ruff is a medium-sized wading bird. It has a long neck, a small head, a rather short slightly droopy bill and medium-long orange or reddish leg. In flight it shows a faint wing-stripe and oval whi... More...

Ruff

Sanderling

The sanderling is a small, plump, energetic wading bird. It has a short straight black bill and medium length black legs. It is pale grey above and white underneath, and there is a black mark at its s... More...

Sanderling

Snipe

Snipe are medium sized, skulking wading birds with short legs and long straight bills. Both sexes are mottled brown above, with paler buff stripes on the back, dark streaks on the chest and pale under... More...

Snipe

Spotted redshank

The spotted redshank is a medium sized elegant wading bird, slightly larger than a redshank. In summer plumage the adults are almost entirely black, save for some white `spotting' on the wings, a whit... More...

Spotted redshank

Temminck's stint

This is a tiny, greyish-brown wading bird with a white belly. The bill is short and used for probing into muddy shorelines.... More...

Temminck's stint

Turnstone

Smaller than a redshank, turnstones have a mottled appearance with brown or chestnut and black upperparts and brown and white or black and white head pattern, whilst their underparts are white and leg... More...

Turnstone

Whimbrel

The whimbrel is a large wading bird. It has longish legs and a long bill that curves near the tip. It is brownish above and whitish below. In flight, it shows a white 'V' shape up its back from its ta... More...

Whimbrel

Wood sandpiper

The wood sandpiper is a medium-sized wading bird, with a fine straight bill, yellowish legs and a conspicuous long white stripe from the bill over the eye to the back of the neck. In flight, it shows ... More...

Wood sandpiper

Woodcock

The woodcock is a large bulky wading bird with short legs, and a very long straight tapering bill. It is largely nocturnal, spending most of the day in dense cover. Most of the birds in the UK are res... More...

Woodcock