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Calidris alpina

Length: 8 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Black belly patch on spring adults.  Also heavy droopy black bill.  Similar to many other small sandpipers in winter plumage.

Dunlin - Calidris alpinaVast differences are obvious in winter and breeding plumages, as the Dunlin sports a ruddy brown back, white underparts, and black belly patch in the spring, but has a very nondescript grayish plumage in the winter.  Dunlins generally tolerate colder weather better than many other shorebirds, migrating southward relatively late in the fall and often overwintering as far north as New England or the coast of Alaska.

Habitat: Flooded fields, lake margins, mudflats during migration. Breeds on mixed tundra/wetland in Canada and Alaska.  Found in coastal habitats in the winter and in migration.  

Diet: Primarily insects and insect larvae on migration through the state.  Also small mollusks and crustaceans, small fish, and some plant material.

Behavior: Forages by walking along mudflats or very shallow water, plucking food items from the surface or by rapid probing in the mud.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota.  In breeding range, the nest of a Dunlin is a scrape on the ground lined with grasses and leaves, usually placed in a hidden area such as next to a clump of grass or small hummock.  The female lays between 2 and 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young quickly leave the nest and find their own food, with the parents helping to protect them.  The female however usually leaves after a few days, leaving the male to tend to the young.  The young fledge after about 3 weeks.

Song: Raspy zheeep.

Migration: Summers in northern Canada and Alaska.  Winters along North American coastlines. 

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Dunlin sightings

Similar Species: Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper

Conservation Status: Numbers have seemingly declined since the 1970's.  However, they are still found over a wide geographic area and overall numbers are not threatened. The IUCN lists the Dunlin as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Dunlin

2) Audubon Guide - Dunlin

3) WhatBird - Dunlin

Photo Information: May 20th, 2005 -- Wetland near Wentworth -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Dunlin photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Dunlin - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common spring migrant but rare fall migrant in the eastern part of the state.  Accidental migrant in the western part of the state.

Additional Dunlin Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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