Calidris alpina
A Dunlin specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

While many North Americans know this medium-sized (8-9 inches) sandpiper as a plain, gray bird of the winter shoreline, the Dunlin has a summer plumage which is much more striking. During the breeding season, this sandpiper is rusty-red speckled with brown above with a white eye-stripe, long black bill, black legs, and black breast patch. In winter, this species sheds its summer colors and becomes gray above with a white breast and gray throat. Male and female Dunlins are similar in summer and winter plumages. The Dunlin breeds across arctic and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds primarily along northwestern portions of the Hudson Bay, with smaller populations breeding in Alaska and the islands in the Canadian arctic. Most Dunlin breeding in North America winter along both coasts of the continent south to central Mexico. In the Old World, this species breeds across northern Russia, Northern Europe, and Iceland, wintering as far south as the Mediterranean Sea, West Africa, South Asia, and the Oceania. In summer, Dunlins breed on relatively wet, boggy tundra. During the winter, this species primarily inhabits shorelines of sandy beaches, although some birds winter on agricultural land in California’s Central Valley. The diet of the Dunlin is comprised mostly of small aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans and mollusks, although insects may also be eaten when available. Due to its remote breeding habitat, most birdwatchers never see the Dunlin during the summer. In winter, this species may be observed in groups probing the sand for food with their bills and running to avoid incoming waves. Dunlins are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Abundant migrant March to June and August to November. Some winter on the shore from November to March. Found on tidal flats. Plumage is grayer in winter than in spring. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

This is the record for the bird in the front, shown above.
Date: 10/29/1927
Collected By: Wm H Ball
Locality:  Hains Point, DC
Sex: Male
Catalog ID: 308932
The bird towards the back on the left is in breeding plumage (not shown in the image above).
Date: 5/26/1928
Collected By: Wm H Ball
Locality:  Columbia Island, Washington DC
Sex: Not known
Catalog ID: 309133

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17027 Calidris alpina (Dunlin)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC25875 Calidris alpina (Dunlin)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC25876 Calidris alpina (Dunlin)