Species Profile and Threats Database

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EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA, ROKAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Listed Migratory Species - Approval of an International Agreement (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007h) [Legislative Instrument].
Scientific name Calidris alpina [853]
Family Scolopacidae:Charadriiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Linnaeus,1758)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Calidris alpina

Common name: Dunlin

Other names: Red-backed Sandpiper; Black-bellied Sandpiper; American Dunlin; Blackcrop (Bent 1962; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Grinnell et al. 1918; Higgins & Davies 1996).

The Dunlin is a conventionally accepted species (Christidis & Boles 2008; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Sibley & Monroe 1990). There are nine subspecies:

  • nominate alpina, which breeds in northern Scandinavia and northern European Russia, and spends the non-breeding season in western Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East and western parts of the Indian subcontinent
  • subspecies arctica, which breeds in north-eastern Greenland and winters in north-western Africa
  • subspecies schinzii, which breeds in south-eastern Greenland, Iceland, Britain, the Baltic States and southern Scandinavia, and winters in southern Europe and north-western Africa
  • subspecies sakhalina, which breeds in north-eastern Siberia on the Chukotski Peninsula and Anadyrland, and winters in eastern Asia
  • subspecies actites, which breeds on northern Sakhalin and probably winters in eastern Asia
  • subspecies kistchinskii, which breeds on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the northern coast of the Sea of Okhotsk and on the Kurile Islands, and probably winters in eastern Asia
  • subspecies arcticola, which breeds in north-western Alaska, and winters in eastern Asia
  • subspecies pacifica, which breeds in south-western Alaska, and winters in western parts of the United States and Mexico
  • subspecies hudsonia, which breeds in central Canada, and winters in eastern parts of the United States and possibly in eastern Mexico (Barter 2002, 2005b; Browning 1991; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The Dunlin is a small (length: 16–22 cm; weight: 60 g) sandpiper with a shortish drooping bill, short wings and legs, and a hunched posture. The sexes are similar in both breeding and non-breeding plumage, but juveniles are separable from adults.

In breeding plumage, the centre of the forehead and the crown are bright chestnut with black streaks; the neck is white with black streaks; the mantle, the back and often the lower scapulars are bright chestnut with black markings that produce a characteristic red-and-black appearance when viewed from a distance (though a few birds lack the black markings); the rump and uppertail coverts are white with a dark line down the middle; and the tail is is brownish grey except for the middle rectrices, which are black.

The upperwings have brownish-grey innerwing coverts. The remainder are darker, with a prominent white wing-bar. The sides of the head are white with fine black streaks, with a white supercilium and a dusky loral stripe, broadening to a smudge in front of the eye, and some have a diffuse brownish patch on the ear coverts; the chin and throat are white, as is the breast, but it is finely streaked black, and the rest of the underparts are white except for the belly, which has a diagnostic black patch. The underwings are white except for dark mottling along the leading edge, greyish primary coverts and a diffuse, narrow area of mottling along the trailing edge. The bill is black, the eyes dark brown and the legs and feet are black or blackish grey.

In non-breeding plumage, the species is similar except that the head and hindneck and sides of the neck are all plain brownish-grey with fine dark streaks, which accentuates the off-white supercilium; the mantle, scapulars, tertials and innerwing coverts are plain brownish grey with fine dark shafts, giving an unpatterned appearance. The foreneck and breast have a strong brownish-grey tinge, but the rest of the underbody is white.

Juveniles appear as duller versions of adults in breeding plumage, though they diagnostically lack the black belly of the adult, having a white belly instead (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Hayman et al. 1986; Higgins & Davies 1996; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The species occurs in flocks, which are sometimes very large (Cramp & Simmons 1983), but vagrants in Australia are more likely to occur singly.

There have been two confirmed records of the Dunlin in Australia: at Cairns, Queensland, on 4 January 1983 (Roberts 1983); and Cape Bowling Green, Queensland, on 1 July 1999 (Lowry et al. 1999). There have been numerous other unconfirmed or doubtful reports, from Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia (Higgins & Davies 1996).

The key populations (with respect to Australia) are probably the ones which breed in north-eastern Siberia (subspecies sakhalina and kistchinski), on Sakhalin (subspecies actites) and in southern Alaska (subspecies pacifica), as it is these populations that are most likely to occur as vagrants in Australia during the non-breeding season (Barter 2005b).

Given its vagrant status, there are no estimates of the extent of occurrence of the Dunlin in Australia. The estimated global extent of occurrence is 1 000 000–10 000 000 km² (Birdlife International 2007a).

There are no published estimates of the area of occupancy.

There are no current captive populations of this species and none have been reintroduced into the wild.

Though Dunlins breed on three different continents, their distribution is widespread and relatively continuous, both in breeding and non-breeding areas. The species is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere (Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996), and a vagrant to the Southern Hemisphere.

Breeding distribution
The Dunlin has a virtually circumpolar breeding distribution, with populations breeding in Greenland, Iceland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Russia, Alaska and northern Canada (Barter 2005b; Browning 1991; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Gromadzka 1989; MacLean & Holmes 1971; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

On passage
In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the species occurs on passage in eastern Siberia, eastern China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan (Barter 2002, 2005b; de Schauensee 1984; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Gerasimov 2004, 2005; Gore & Won 1971; Orn. Soc. Japan 2000). Elsewhere, Dunlins are recorded on passage through Britain and continental western, central and eastern Europe; the Middle East; Nepal and western China; and Canada and parts of the United States (Bent 1962; Cramp & Simmons 1983; de Schauensee 1984; Grimmett et al. 1999b).

Non-breeding distribution
In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, most Dunlins occur during the non-breeding season in eastern China, between Yangcheng south to Hainan, and on the western coast of South Korea (Barter 2002; de Schauensee 1984; Lei et al. 2002). It is seldom recorded in South-East Asia (e.g. it has only been recorded as a vagrant in the Philippines) (Erritzoe 1994; van Weerd & van der Ploeg 2004), and is a rare winter visitor to Thailand (Lekagul & Round 1991; Round 2006). Further west, it is seldom recorded in Bangladesh (Grimmett et al. 1999b), but is a regular and widespread winter visitor to India (especially the western and north-western coasts) and Pakistan (Ali & Ripley 1969; Grimmett et al. 1999b), the Middle East, the Mediterranean coast, north-western and western Africa, southern and western Europe, and, in North America, along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern Canada, the United States and western Mexico (AOU 1983; Bent 1962; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Pienkowski & Dick 1975; Root 1988; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Wymenga et al. 1990). Small numbers sometimes occur in Hawaii and sometimes also in Micronesia (Pratt et al. 1987). Vagrants have been recorded in South America in French Guyana (Greenwood 1983), inland in Paraguay (Lesterhuis & Clay 2001), and along the Pacific Ocean side, in Peru (Petersen et al. 1981), and also on Guam (Williams & Grout 1985) and in eastern Australia (Lowry et al. 1999; Roberts 1983).

Subspecies that use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and estimated numbers, are:

  • C. a. arcticola, 750 000
  • C. a. kistchinski, 100 000 - 1 000 000
  • C. a. sakhalina, 100 000 - 1 000 000
  • C. a. actites, 900

The Dunlin is the second most abundant shorebird in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
The global population of Dunlins is estimated at 4.2–6.4 million individuals (Birdlife International 2007a) or 2.86–3.01 million birds (van Gils & Wiersma 1996), though Bamford and colleagues (2008) report that recent studies suggest population figures are much higher than previously estimated. The species is not globally threatened (van Gils & Wiersma 1996), and is classified as being of least concern (Birdlife International 2007a). Nevertheless, the population has declined in parts of Europe (Sim et al. 2005; van Gils & Wiersma 1996), and possibly also in Alaska and northern Canada (Audubon 2005; Brown et al. 2001; Donaldson et al. 2000; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Like many migratory shorebirds, the Dunlin is adversely affected by loss of habitat and pollution, especially on passage and in non-breeding areas.

The species is a vagrant to Australia.

The species has been well surveyed and monitored overseas, including extensive banding, leg-flagging and radio-tracking programs in Britain (Rehfish et al. 2003b; Sim et al. 2005), and in areas where the species occurs on passage such as China, South Korea and Japan (Barter 2005, 2005b; Barter et al. 2000, 2005; Chalmers 1986; Kejia et al. 2006; Riegen et al. 2006), the Baltic States (Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000; Gromadzka 1989) and North America (Bolton & Szanto 2003; Buchanan & Evenson 1997; Handel & Gill 1992; Ruiz et al. 1989; Shuford et al. 1998; Warnock et al. 1997, 2004). Occasional studies have occurred on the breeding grounds (Barter 2005b; Gratto-Trevor et al. 1998), including the use of satellite and infra-red imagery to monitor breeding birds (Lavers & Haines-Young 1997).

The global population of Dunlins is estimated at 2.86–6.4 million individuals (Birdlife International 2007; van Gils & Wiersma 1996),though Bamford and colleagues (2008) report that recent studies suggest population figures are much higher than previously estimated.

There are nine different subspecies of the Dunlin (Cramp & Simmons 1983), and though these breed separately, there is much intermingling on passage and in non-breeding areas.

The species' population is considered to be relatively stable in North America (Gratto-Trevor et al. 1998), though the population of subspecies Calidris alpina arcticola, which breeds in north-western Alaska, may be declining (Barter 2005b), and the population in Britain has declined greatly, with the current rate of decrease predicted to result in at least a 50% population decline over the next 25 years. There have also been contractions in the species' range in Britain (Sim et al. 2005). This reflects similar declines in populations in western continental Europe (van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Fluctuations in populations probably reflect factors in the breeding grounds, such as 'lemming cycles' which affect the level of predation of waders' nests and the number of young birds that subsequently arrive in the non-breeding areas (Rogers et al. 2005).

There is no published information on the generation length of the Dunlin, but they first breed when one year old, and the oldest bird recorded was 24 years old (Etheridge & Taylor 1982; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Dunlins have been recorded hybridizing with Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima) (Millington 1994), Sanderlings (Calidris alba) (Clark 1987) and White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) (McLaughlin & Wormington 2000).

Given the widespread distribution of this species, it is likely to occur in many conservation reserves in many countries.

During the non-breeding period, Dunlins usually inhabit sheltered coasts with large mudflats, such as estuaries, coastal lagoons, swamps and saltpans, and also sometimes on rocky coasts. They also occasionally inhabit terrestrial wetlands further inland, such as the margins of lakes and dams, moist farmland and sewage farms (AOU 1983; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Shepherd & Lank 2004; Summers et al. 2002; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Both Australian records were on coastal mudflats in sheltered harbours or embayments (Lowry et al. 1999; Roberts 1983). During the breeding season they occur both in coastal areas and further inland, in damp tundra, mossy marshes, moist grasslands, rough pasture and moors, saltmarsh and other terrestrial wetlands (AOU 1983; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951).

Feeding habitat
Dunlins usually forage on intertidal mudflats or sandflats at low tide, choosing areas of the softest, moistest mud in low-lying areas of the mudflats, sometimes wading in water up to their bellies. They sometimes feed in adjacent saltmarsh or farmland, including pasture (Bent 1962; Gerasimov 2004; Kelsey & Hassall 1989; Long & Ralph 2001; Masero et al. 2000; Ruiz et al. 1989; Worrall 1984). When on passage, they have been seen foraging at the edge of lake ice, taking insects which were blown from nearby marshes by the wind (Gerasimov 2001).

Roosting habitat
The species usually roosts in areas adjacent to intertidal feeding areas, such as at the edge of a bay or the mouth of a river, on solid, sparsely vegetated embankments, dry exposed mudflats adjacent to grassy meadows, low saltmarsh, sheltered rocky shores, reclaimed land, and, sometimes, artificial structures such as saltpans or piers (Handel & Gill 1992; Luís & Goss-Custard 2005; Pérez-Hurtado et al. 1997; Rehfish et al. 2003a; Ruiz et al. 1989).

Breeding habitat
They usually breed in moist boggy areas with a mosaic of surface water, unvegetated areas and patches of low vegetation, including short grass, moss or other stunted plants, including habitats such as graminoid, mossy, peat-hummock or dwarf shrub tundra, marshes, damp rough pasture or fallow farmland. Dry, stony or rocky areas are avoided, as are sites overgrown with dense or tall shrubs (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Gratto-Trevor et al. 1998; Jackson 1994; Lavers & Haines-Young 1996).

During windy weather, Dunlins have been recorded sheltering along banks, in channels or behind vegetated islands (Handel & Gill 1992).

The species does not rely on a listed threatened ecological community.

Dunlins first breed when one year old, and the oldest known bird was 24 years old (Etheridge & Taylor 1982; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Dunlins are often preyed upon by raptors, such as European Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), European Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus), Merlins (Falco columbarius), European Kestrels (Falco tinunculus), Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) and Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus), and other predators such as Arctic Jaegers ( Stercorarius oarasiticus), Glaucous Gulls ( Larus hyperboreus) and Mew Gulls ( Larus canus) (Andrews 1992; Buchanan 1996; Buchanan et al. 1988; Cresswell & Whitfield 1994; Diersche 1998; Handel & Gill 1992; Kus et al. 1984; Michaelsen & Byrkjedal 2002; Stienen & Brenninkmeifer 1997). Predation also occurs from mammals such as Brown Bears (Ursus arctos), Polar Wolves (Canus lupus), Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Arctic Foxes (Alopex lagopus), Wolverines (Gulo gulo), Least Weasels (Mustela nivalis), Ermine (Mustela erminea) and Mink (Mustela vison) (Gerasimov 2005).

The species does not breed in Australia (Higgins & Davies 1996; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Dunlins lay their eggs between June and early July in the Arctic, when the snow has melted, or between late April and June further south. Nests are usually depressions in the ground on low ridges or hummocks, neatly lined with grass or leaves and surrounded by vegetation, such as dry grass, sedges or overhanging, stunted birch trees. Clutches comprise between two and six eggs, usually four. Eggs are incubated by both sexes for between 20 and 24 days. The chicks are precocial, and may be attended by both parents until the young fledge (19–21 days) (Bent 1962; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

During the non-breeding season and on passage Dunlins mainly eat invertebrates, especially polychaete and oligochaete worms, gastropods and crustaceans (such as shrimps and amphipods), and also occasionally insects and their larvae, molluscs (including bivalves and gastropods) and small fish (Bent 1962; Brennan et al. 1990; Durell et al. 1990; Kelsey & Hassall 1989; Pérez-Hurtado et al. 1997; Sterbetz 1992; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Verkuil et al. 2003; Worrall 1984).

The species mainly eats worms and insects and their larvae during the breeding season, though they sometimes also take gastropods and spiders (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Dunlins forage both during the day and at night (Masero et al. 2000; Mouritsen 1994; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Prey is located by sight or by touch, with the method dependent on the hardness of the substrate and the mobility of the prey. They usually quickly probe the mud for food just below the surface, or by pecking the surface itself. Shallow probes (with the bill remaining in contact with the mud) are made rapidly while the bird stands still, and slower probes are made while the bird walks. They sometimes forage while wading in belly-deep water, immersing their heads (Bent 1962; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Kelsey & Hassall 1989; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The Dunlin is a migratory species, breeding in northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America, and migrating to temperate, subtropical and tropical regions for the non-breeding period (Bent 1962; Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Migration involves a variety of strategies, from short flights along coasts to long overland flights between staging areas, and loop migration. Adults migrate at different times than juvenile birds (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000; Gromadzka 1989).

Departure from breeding grounds
Dunlins breeding in north-western Alaska leave breeding grounds in September and October, and cross the Bering Strait to join with eastern Asian birds (Barter 2005b; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Populations breeding in eastern Siberia mostly remain on the breeding grounds until early August-late September (Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951). European breeding birds usually leave the breeding grounds in August or September (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

Southern passage
In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, Dunlins probably fly non-stop from staging sites in north-eastern Siberia, bypassing the Yellow Sea on the way to their non-breeding areas, as the species is less numerous in the Yellow Sea on southern passage than it is during the northern passage (Barter 2002, 2005b). On Kamchatka, they mostly migrate between early August and early September, though they are recorded between mid-July and late September (Gerasimov 2005; Gerasimov & Huettmann 2006), and on Sakhalin they have been recorded arriving from over the mountains between July and November, though mostly mid-August to early October (Gerasimov 2004; Gerasimov & Huettmann 2006). They occur on passage through eastern China and the Korean Peninsula in September and October (Gore & Won 1971; Yang & Zhang 2006), with records of birds moving through Japan from mid-September to late October (Brazil 1991). Elsewhere, birds migrating from breeding grounds in northern Europe occur on passage in Britain and throughout western and southern Europe generally between July and September, eastern Europe in July and August (Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000), Azov-Black Sea between August and November (Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000), and northern Africa mainly between July and September (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000; Goede et al. 1990; Gromadzka 1989; Pienkowski & Dick 1975; Urban et al. 1986). While most Dunlins probably reach the Indian subcontinent via the Mediterranean and the Middle East (Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996), at least some appear to fly overland, as there are a few records of birds on passage through Sinkiang Province in western China, Mongolia and Nepal (de Schauensee 1984; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Grimmett et al. 1999b).

In North America, most Dunlins travel south along one of two routes: (1) along the coast of the Bering Sea and south along the Pacific coast, where it is recorded on passage in California in mid-September; or (2) along the Atlantic coast (mostly between mid-August and mid-September); while a few migrate south through the interior of North America, from the Great Lakes region, south along the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf of Mexico (AOU 1983; Bent 1962; Grinnell et al. 1918; MacLean & Holmes 1971; Warnock et al. 2004).

Non-breeding season
The species usually remains in the Northern Hemisphere, and often spends the non-breeding season in many areas where it is also recorded on passage.

In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, they mostly spend the non-breeding season in eastern China, mainly from the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River south to Hainan, and also on the western coast of the Korean Peninsula (Barter 2002, 2005b; de Schauensee 1984; Lei et al. 2002), arriving in August and leaving in May (Chalmers 1986).

Elsewhere, in Africa, they usually remain in non-breeding areas between August and March or early April (Urban et al. 1986) and, in Pakistan, Dunlins occur between early August and mid-March-mid-May (Ali & Ripley 1980; Roberts 1991).

In southern California they arrive in mid-October, with numbers peaking in late November, and remain until late March, with numbers declining through April, and they are gone by early May (Ruiz et al. 1989).There are also occasional records of Dunlins wintering in Central America (AOU 1983), and small numbers occur in Hawaii during the non-breeding season, as well as a few scattered islands in Micronesia (Pratt et al. 1987).

Northern passage
In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway some Dunlins may fly directly from non-breeding areas in Taiwan and southern China to the breeding grounds, while others stop off at staging sites in the Yellow Sea after a short northward flight from non-breeding areas (Barter 2005b). They move through eastern China and the Korean Peninsula between late April and mid-May (Barter 2002; Barter et al. 2000; Gore & Won 1971; Riegen et al. 2006; Yang & Zhang 2006) and through Japan in mid-May (Brazil 1991). Passage through Sakhalin occurs between early April and mid-May (Gerasimov & Huettmann 2006), and movement back through Kamchatka begins in mid-May, with a peak in late May (Dement'ev & Galdkov 1951; Gerasimov 2001; Gerasimov & Gerasimov 2001; Gerasimov & Huettmann 2006).

Elsewhere, Dunlins are recorded on northern passage through northern Africa between late March and late May (Urban et al. 1986); western Europe, especially Britain, generally between mid-April and late May (Cramp & Simmons 1983); the Netherlands between early April and late May, with a peak in late April-early May (Goede et al. 1990); the Azov-Black Sea between late March and early May (Diadicheva & Matsievskaya 2000); in North America, along the Pacific coast between late April and early May; and along the Atlantic coast between mid-April and late May (Bent 1962; Grinnell et al. 1918).

Return to breeding grounds
The species arrives back at breeding grounds on Kamchatka and elsewhere in eastern Siberia in May and north-western Alaska in late May and early June (Barter 2005b; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Gerasimov & Gerasimov 2001; Gerasimov & Huettmann 2006). Populations breeding in northern Europe and Greenland arrive back at the breeding grounds in late April or May (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

Territories are seldom maintained away from the breeding grounds (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

In some plumages, this species could be confused with similar shorebird species, especially the widespread and abundant Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), as well as the uncommon Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), and other species which could possibly occur as vagrants in Australia, such as the Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri). A small vagrant shorebird such as this species would be difficult to detect if it was among a large flock of other small waders.

There are no viable methods to conduct surveys of the species in Australia, as there have been only two confirmed records, in very small numbers. It is most likely to be detected during the regular, twice-yearly, high-tide surveys by the Australasian Wader Studies Group of shorebirds at regular sites.

The species has only been recorded in Australia twice, so there are no threats that are relevant to the overall population of the species here. However, over-visitation could be a threat should the species be found in Australia, though this is an unlikely event. General threats also include pollution and loss of habitat, which affect most species of migratory shorebirds visiting Australia.

There are a number of threats that affect all migratory waders, including the Dunlin, that occur in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The greatest threat facing waders is habitat loss, both direct and indirect (Melville 1997). Staging areas used during migration through eastern Asia are being lost and degraded by activities which are reclaiming the mudflats for future development (e.g. Barter 2002, 2005b, 2005c; Ge et al. 2007; Moores 2006; Rogers et al. 2006; Round 2006). In many suitable staging areas along the East Asia Flyway many intertidal areas have been reclaimed, and the process is continuing at a rapid rate and may accelerate in the near future (Barter 2002, 2005b, 2005c). In addition, water regulation and diversion infrastructure in the major tributaries have resulted in the reduction of water and sediment flows, which compound the problem (Barter 2002, 2005b; Barter et al. 1998; Melville 1997).

Another habitat-related threat is the loss of suitable foraging habitat as it is taken over by exotic plants such as cordgrass (Spartinia spp) (Goss-Custard & Moser 1988; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Global warming and associated changes in sea level are likely to have a long-term impact on the breeding, staging and non-breeding grounds of migratory waders (Harding et al. 2007; Melville 1997).

Disturbance from human activities, including recreation, shellfish harvesting, fishing and aquaculture is likely to increase significantly in the future (Barter 2005b; Barter et al. 2005; Davidson & Rothwell 1993).

Migratory shorebirds are also adversely affected by pollution, such as organochlorines or heavy metals discharged into the sea from industrial or urban sources, both on passage and in non-breeding areas (Barter 2005b; Blomqvist et al. 1987; Ferns & Anderson 1997; Goede & de Bruin 1985a, 1985b; Harding et al. 2007; Huettmann & Gerasimov 2006; Melville 1997; Schick et al. 1987).

On the breeding grounds in Britain, the species is adversely affected by afforestation which reduces the area of available moorland in which to nest, as does pressure from grazing by stock (Sim et al. 2005).

Although the Dunlin is very populous, an action plan for the species in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway has been published (Barter 2005b). There are significant gaps in the knowledge of the species, especially the extent of the breeding grounds of the four subspecies which occur in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and the non-breeding areas used by these birds. Surveys of birds on passage have counted many more birds than can be accounted for in the non-breeding areas (Barter 2005b). The species is also included in the United States and Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, in which it is proposed to restore numbers of birds breeding in Alaska and Canada (Brown et al. 2001; Donaldson et al. 2000). Monitoring the distribution and abundance of Dunlins breeding in northern Scotland has been used in conservation and land-use planning (Lavers & Haines-Young 1996, 1997).

There are no mitigation measures that have been developed for the species.

Due to the abundance and widespread distribution of the species, there have been a number of major studies on the Dunlin, such as:

  • Browning (1991), MacLean and Holmes (1971) (taxonomy)
  • Brennan and colleagues (1990), Durell and colleagues (1990), Worrall (1984) (food, feeding)
  • Etheridge and Taylor (1982) (biometrics)
  • Gerasimov and Gerasimov (2001), Goede and colleagues (1990), Gromadzka (1989), Pienkowski and Dick (1975) (movements)
  • Wenink and Baker (1996), Wenink and colleagues (1993, 1994, 1996), Wennerberg (2001), Wennerberg and colleagues (1999) (genetics, phylogeography)
  • Kus and colleagues (1984), Warnock and colleagues (1997) (survival / mortality)
  • Lavers and Haines-Young (1996) (conservation).

The key management documentation for the species in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is Keeping the common shorebirds common: Action planning to save the Dunlin by Barter (2005b). There is a detailed summary of all that is known of the species in Europe in Cramp and Simmons (1983) and a briefer summary in van Gils and Wiersma (1996).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Pollution:Pollution:Pollution due to oil spills and other chemical pollutants Calidris alpina in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006du) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Residential and Commercial Development:Land reclamation and soil dumping due to urban and industrial development Calidris alpina in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006du) [Internet].

Ali, S. & S.D. Ripley (1969). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 3. Bombay: Oxford Unversity Press.

American Ornithologists Union (AOU) (1983). Check-list of North American Birds. Lawrence, Kansas: American Ornithologists Union.

Andrews, D.J. (1992). The diet of wintering Short-eared Owls on Strangford Lough, Co. Down. Irish Birds. 4:549-554.

Audubon (2005). Dunlin Calidris alpina. Conservation status. [Online]. Viewed 2 May 2008. Available from:

Bamford M., D. Watkins, W. Bancroft, G. Tischler & J. Wahl (2008). Migratory Shorebirds of the East Asian - Australasian Flyway: Population estimates and internationally important sites. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Wetlands International-Oceania. Available from:

Barter, M.A. (2002). Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea: Importance, Threats and Conservation Status. Wetlands International Global Series No. 8, International Wader Studies 12. Canberra, ACT: Wetlands International.

Barter, M.A. (2005b). Keeping the common shorebirds common: Action planning to save the Dunlin. In: Straw, P, ed. Status and Conservation of Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Proceedings of the Australasian Shorebirds Conference 13-15 December 2003, Canberra, Australia. Page(s) 183-187. Sydney: Wetlands International Global Series 18, International Wader Studies 17.

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Calidris alpina in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Thu, 10 Jul 2014 19:07:56 +1000.