Waders, or shorebirds, are birds which belong to some families of the order Charadriiformes (just like seagulls, terns, skuas, and auks). They are characterized by their usually long legs and bills, and they feed mainly by hunting small invertebrates along shores or mudflats. They are often migratory, and clear sexual dismorphism (difference of appearance between males and females) is rare. All birds are shown in summer plumage.
Oystercatchers are the group of species which form the Haematopodidae family. Most oystercatcher species are found in South Asia and Africa, but one species is found in Europe as well. This species, the Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) is therefore called simply "oystercatcher" in Europe. It is a fairly large bird (40-47.5cm in length, wingspans around 83cm) with striking black and white plumage, red eyes and bill, and pink legs. It breeds in fragmented populations from Iceland to eastern Siberia, and winters in North Africa. In the East Atlantic Arctic, it breeds around Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Fennoscandia. It is a regular visitor to Svalbard in spring and early summer, and a rare visitor to Greenland from April to October. Some individuals winter in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
Charadriidae is a large family which contains plovers as well as lapwings and dotterels. Members characterized by their much shorter bills compared to most waders. Species that are common in the East Atlantic Arctic include:
- The Northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Medium-sized (28-31cm in length, wingspans 82-87cm), it is easy to recognize with a green-purple metallic sheen on the wing and black crest feathers. It breeds from the UK to eastern China, including throughout Fennoscandia. It used to be a more common breeder in the Faroe Islands, but it is now rare with only 3-5 pairs a year.
- The Eurasian dotterel Charadrius morinellus. This dotterel is slightly smaller than the golden plover (20-22cm in length for wingspans 57-64cm). It has a very large summer range, breeding in fragmented populations from Scotland to eastern Siberia and western Alaska. In the East Atlantic Arctic, it breeds in Norway, western Sweden, and northern Finland. It is a very rare vagrant to Iceland.
- The European golden plover Pluvialis apricaria. This medium-sized bird (length 26-29cm for wingspans 67-76cm) with striking plumage is an Arctic and Subarctic breeder found in summer between Greenland and northern central Russia. In the East Atlantic Arctic, it has a small area of distribution in on the eastern coast of Greenland, and it is found around the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and around Fennoscandia. It is a common spring visitor to Svalbard, and a scarce breeder.
- The Common ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula. This little plover (18-20cm in length for wingspans 48-57cm) breeds in Subarctic and Arctic regions of Eurasia, with a range that extends to the far North of Greenland. In addition to breeding along Greenlandic coasts, it also breeds in some areas of Svalbard, in Iceland, and most of Fennoscandia. In the Faroe Islands, it is a common visitor during migration, as well as a scarce breeder.
- The Little ringed plover Charadrius dubius. Breeding in subarctic and temperate regions of Eurasia, the range of this very small plover (14-15cm in length for wingspans 42-48cm) intersects with its larger cousin the common ringed plover in parts of northwestern Europe. In the East Atlantic Arctic, it is found in the summer in southern Norway, southern and coastal Sweden, and southern Finland.
Scolopacidae is the sandpiper family. Sandpiper is a general term, but the family includes many birds called by other names such as snipes, curlews, godwits, knots, whimbrels, and more. It is a large family, with many members in northern latitudes -- the 26 species that are most common in the East Atlantic Arctic are listed below.
- The Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus. The whimbrel is a large wader (40-44cm in length for wingspans 75-90cm) which has a circumpolar but patchy distribution. It is found breeding in a small area in eastern Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, northern Europe including Fennoscandia, Siberia, Alaska, and northeastern Canada. It is also a regular but rare spring and summer visitor to Svalbard. It migrates to the northern tropics and the southern hemisphere in winter. Here is a great guide to illustrate the best ways to identify whimbrels and Eurasian curlews.
- The Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata. Larger than the whimbrel (48-57cm in length for wingspans 75-90cm) and with a proportionally longer beak, this wader is found in Eurasia and Africa. It breeds from northwestern Europe including Fennoscandia and the Faroe Islands to eastern Russia. In Iceland, it is considered critically endangered; less than 100 individuals are usually seen wintering on Icelandic coasts every year, and a few are even seen throughout the summer although they are not known to attempt breeding.
- The Bar-tailed godwit Limosa lapponica. Breeding in the Arctic from northern Fennoscandia to Siberia and Alaska, this large wader (37-40cm in length for wingspans 70-80cm) winters in coastal western Europe, Africa, and southern Asia.
- The Black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa. This godwit is subarctic rather than Arctic, breeding in Iceland and subarctic Eurasia. It is also a very rare breeder in the Faroe Islands. It winters in southern Eurasia. The black-tailed godwit is similar in plumage and size to its cousin (37-42cm in length for wingspans 63-74cm), but can be identified by its solid black tail instead of having a bar pattern. The beak is yellow instead of brown, the belly white with marbled red. This video from the British Trust for Ornithology is a great help for helping in identificating both species.
- The Red phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius. Also called grey phalarope, this small wader (20-22cm in length for wingspans 36-41cm) is circumpolar but with a patchy distribution. It breeds in western Greenland, some areas in Iceland, Svalbard, central and eastern Siberia, and northern Alaska and Canada. It winters in temperate to tropical regions of America and Africa. In Iceland, it is a rare bird and is considered endangered. Unusually for a wader, it winters at sea.
- The Red-necked phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. The red-necked phalarope is a small circumpolar wader (17-19cm in length for wingspans 30-34cm). It breeds across Norway and northern Fennoscandia, Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and northern Britain. It winters close to the equator in America, the Middle East, and Oceania.
- The Red knot Calidris canutus. The red knot is a circumpolar mostly high Arctic breeder, from northern and eastern Greenland to Alaska, Iceland, and some areas in Siberia. It is a very scarce breeder in Svalbard. It winters in more southern regions all over the world. The red knot is a medium-large sized bird (23-26cm in length for wingspans 57-62cm).
- The Ruddy turnstone Arenaria interpres. With its striking plumage, this medium-sized wader (22-25cm in length for wingspans 50-58cm) is easy to identify. It is a true circumpolar bird, breeding all around the Arctic coasts in northern Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, northern Fennoscandia, Siberia, and northern North America. In the Faroe Islands, it does not breed and is most common in winter - but can be seen year-round.
- The Ruff Calidris pugnax. The male of this rather large species (25-30cm in length for wingspans 55-60cm) has a surprising and stunning appearance in summer plumage. Males show a feather "ruff", meaning erected neck feathers used to attract mates. These ruffs can be black, white, or red, and they are variable in color patterns, from solid to striped. The face is featherless, showing orange skin. Females have a much more discrete plumage. Ruffs are strictly Eurasian. breeding from Fennoscandia to eastern Siberia, and wintering in more southern regions. They are rare vagrants to Iceland.
- The Broad-billed sandpiper Calidris falcinellus. This small and inconspicuous wader (15-18cm in length for wingspans 36-40cm) breeds in fragmented populations in northern Fennoscandia and Siberia. It winters mainly in southern Asia. It can be recognized by the black legs and bill with a distinct lighter supercillium (eyebrow-like mark) which is split in two by a darker line.
- The Sanderling Calidris alba. Another small sandpiper (20-22cm in length for wingspans 40-45cm), this species They can be recognized by their stout bill about as long as the head, pure black bill and legs, and pure white and unmarked flanks and belly. The wing patterns are very distinct white, black and reddish-brown. The sanderling is a high Arctic specialist. It breeds in a circumpolar but patchy distribution, with breeding areas in western and eastern Greenland, Svalbard, Siberia, and northern Canada. It winters in temperate to equatorial areas of both hemispheres. It is a common visitor to the Faroe Islands during migration.
- The Little stint Calidris minuta. Although it looks similar in plumage to the broad-billed sandpiper and the sanderling, this wader is much smaller (12-14cm in length for wingspans 33-37cm). It breeds in northern Fennoscandia and northern Siberia, and winters in southern Eurasia and Africa. It is a rare vagrant to Iceland.
- Temminck's stint Calidris temminckii. With its small size (13-15cm in length for wingspans 34-38cm), slender bill and yellow legs, Temminck's stint is relatively easy to identify. It is an Afro-eurasian species, breeding in northern Eurasia including Fennoscandia, and wintering in Africa and southern Asia.
- Baird's sandpiper Calidris bairdii. Although this small sandpiper is unremarkable in color, it can be recognized by its extremely long wings compared to its size (14-17cm in length for wingspans 40-45cm). It is an American bird of the high Arctic, breeding in northwestern Greenland, northern Canada, and northern Alaska, as well as the eastern tip of Siberia, and wintering in South America. It is an extremely rare vagrant to Iceland. It can be confused with the Pectoral sandpiper Calidris melanotos which does not breed in the East Atlantic Arctic but is a common visitor to Svalbard and a rare but regular visitor to Iceland.
- The Purple sandpiper Calidris maritima. This sandpiper is similar in shape to the dunlin but with a stouter, slightly larger body (20-22cm in length for wingspans 38-44cm) and shorter orange legs. It breeds mostly around the North Atlantic in northeastern Canada, western and southern Greenland, Iceland, the northern Fennoscandian coast, Svalbard, and northwestern Siberia. The purple sandpiper is a short distance migrant, wintering in the North Atlantic. For example, it is common for some purple sandpipers to winter in Iceland, southern Greenland, and northern Fennoscandia. It is a scarce breeder in the Faroe islands where it is also a common visitor.
- The Dunlin Calidris alpina. The dunlin is the only sandpiper with a black belly (in summer plumage), which makes it relatively easy to identify. It is small (16-21cm in length for wingspans 28-45cm) and its beak is fairly long. The dunlin's distribution is circumpolar, breeding across northern Eurasia, Iceland, northern Alaska, northern Canada, and eastern Greenland. It is a scarce breeder in Svalbard and the Faroe Islands, where it is also a seen in great numbers during the spring migration. It winters in southern regions of the northern hemisphere.
- The Common sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. This brown and white sandpiper has an extremely wide distribution, breeding all across Eurasia including Fennoscandia, and wintering in southern Eurasia, Africa, and Oceania. It can be recognized from similar bird by its smaller size (18-20.5cm in length for wingspans 32-35cm) and white patch in front of the wing.
- The Green sandpiper Tringa ochropus. This medium-sized wader (20-24cm in length for wingspans 39-44cm) can be identified from other similar sandpipers and greenshanks by the greenish hue of their upper parts and dark green legs. It breeds across Eurasia including Fennoscandia except the northernmost areas, and winters in more southern regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is an extremely rare vagrant to Iceland.
- The Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola. Recognized by its lighter plumage on the shoulder, spotted summer plumage, and distinctive light supercillium, this sandpiper is a little smaller than its cousin the green sandpiper, but has much longer wings (19-21cm in length for wingspans 55-58cm). It breeds across Eurasia including Fennoscandia, and winters in Africa and southern Asia. The wood sandpiper used to be a rare vagrant to Iceland, but it has started to breed there in the last two decades, and may be considered a native bird in the years to come.
- The Common greenshank Tringa nebularia. The common greenshank breeds all across Eurasia including Fennoscandia, and winters in southern Eurasia, Africa, and Oceania. Its color is lighter than similar species, with longer legs and a more slender, longer body (30-35cm in length for wingspans 55-62cm). The bill is slightly upturned. The common greenshank is a very rare vagrant to Iceland.
- The Spotted redshank Tringa erythropus. This medium-large wader (29-33cm in length for wingspans 61-67cm) breeds across northern Fennoscandia and Siberia. It winters in western Europe, southern Asia, and northern Africa, and is a very rare vagrant to Iceland. This article, written by birder and guide Alan de Witt, explains how to identify the spotted and common redshanks in winter. In summer, the spotted redshank is easy to recognize for its spotted black plumage.
- The Common redshank Tringa totanus. This redshank is slightly smaller and more robust than the spotted redshank (24-27cm in length for wingspans 47-53cm). It breeds in Iceland, coastal Fennoscandia, and from western Europe across to eastern China. It winters in Africa, western and southern Europe, and southern Asia. It is a common vagrant to Greenland and Svalbard, and a scarce breeder in the Faroe Islands.
This article, written by Andy Stoddart from Bird Guides, is a great resource on identifying the Eurasian woodcock, great snipe, and common snipe.
- The Eurasian woodcock Scolopax rusticola. The biggest of the snipe-like birds (33-35cm in length for wingspans 56-60cm) in the East Atlantic Arctic, the Eurasian woodcock is unusual for a wader because it is a woodland bird. This is illustrated by its patchy cryptic plumage (meaning camouflage). It breeds from Fennoscandia except for the northernmost regions to northern Japan. It is also a new breeding bird in Iceland where it still has a scarce distribution. It winters in western and southern Europe as well as in southern Asia.
- The Common snipe Gallinago gallinago. Known for the "drumming" sound caused by its wing feathers vibrating, the common snipe inhabits mainly marshes and wetlands, breeding in dryer areas. It is medium-sized for a wader (25-27cm in length for wingspans 44-47cm). It breeds in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and from northern Britain to eastern Siberia, including throughout Fennoscandia. It winters in Europe, southern Asia, and Africa. Faroese common snipes are of an endemic Faroese subspecies.
- The Great snipe Gallinago media. The great snipe is bigger and stouter than the common snipe (26-30cm in length for wingspans 43-50cm) but with a shorter beak compared to its size. It prefers open fields and wet meadows to the coasts and shores which most wader that most waders inhabit. It breeds in southern Norway and western Sweden, as well as from southern Finland to southern Russia. It winters in Africa.
- The Jack snipe Lymnocryptes minimus. It can be recognized from similar species by its smaller size (17-19cm in length for wingspans 38-42cm), shorter beak, and more prominent golden stripes on the back. The jack snipe breed in northern Europe including northern Fennoscandia, and throughout most of subarctic and low Arctic Russia. It winters in western Europe, Africa, and southern Asia, and it is also a common winter visitor to Iceland.
- Cover picture by Cécile Chauvat
- "Eurasian Oystercatcher" by Ray in Manila is marked with CC BY 2.0.
- "Northern Lapwing (male) - Kievit (man) (Vanellas vanellas)" by Martha de Jong-Lantink is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)" by David Cook Wildlife Photography is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "Waders Plover Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Faneromeni Lesvos 08/05/15" by Mick Sway is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0.
- "Eurasian Dotterel" by naturalengland is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Ljungpipare / European Golden Plover" by Stefan Berndtsson is marked with CC BY 2.0.
- Eurasian whimbrel picture by Cécile Chauvat
- "Eurasian Curlew" by naturalengland is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Bar-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage" by Andreas Trepte is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.
- "Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa" by f_snarfel is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "Ruddy Turnstone" by Greg Gard is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Red Knot" by ann.morrison75 is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Ruff, Calidris pugnax" by f_snarfel is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "寬嘴鷸繁殖羽 Breeding plumage of Broad-billed Sandpiper" by Changhua Coast Conservation Action is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "丹氏稚鷸夏羽 Temminck's Stint breeding plumage" by Changhua Coast Conservation Action is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Sanderling (breeding plumage)" by Laurie R B is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) summer plumage adult" by Allan Hopkins is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Little Stint Calidris minuta" by nik.borrow is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "Calidris bairdii" by Blake Matheson is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "山鷸 Eurasian woodcock (丘鷸)" by Hiyashi Haka is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Great Snipe (Gallinago media)" by David Cook Wildlife Photography is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.
- "Common Snipe" by naturalengland is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Jack Snipe" by naturalengland is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)" by Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.
- "Red Phalarope - Alaska" by ZakPohlen is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Spotted redshank [Explored]" by Jan Thomas Landgren is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Common Greenshank 2015-07-30_03 [Explored 2015-08-03]" by Jan Thomas Landgren is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Tringa totanus totanus - Archibebe Común - Maçarico-de-perna-vermelha - Chevalier gambette - Pettegola - Common Redshank - Rotschenkel" by Agustín Povedano is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- "Common Sandpiper" by naturalengland is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Green sandpiper 2015-08-16_01 [Explored 2015-09-26]" by Jan Thomas Landgren is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- "Wood sandpiper 2018-07-29_08" by Jan Thomas Landgren is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
- Eurasian oystercatcher picture by Cécile Chauvat
- "Common ringed plover // Charadrius hiaticula" by Jevgenijs Slihto is marked with CC BY 2.0.
- Purple sandpiper picture by Cécile Chauvat
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