A mid-sized shorebird with relatively long, decurved bill. Alternate adult has rusty reddish brown back, mostly white underparts with a large black belly patch. Foreneck and breast marked with fine dusky streaks, flanks, vent and undertail unmarked white. Head shows medium reddish-brown crown with fine black streaks, mostly whitish supercilium and auriculars, small reddish-brown auricular patch, and fine dark streaking on the nape, auriculars and malar area. Legs and long, drooping bill are black. Basic adult is gray overall, lacking defined streaks, without heavily contrasting plumage; wings and breast are brownish, belly whitish, and face has faint dark eyeline and pale supercilium. Juvenile is heavily streaked with black and has beginnings of dark belly patch. In flight, note black center tail stripe and white-based flight feathers.
Length: 22 (cm) Wingspan: 43 (cm)
Light, buzzy kreee in flight. On arctic breeding grounds, song is a set of raspy trills.
Mudflats, beaches, estuaries, wet fields, pond and lake edges. Breeds on tundra.
Often flocks with other shorebirds during migration. In winter, forms large tight flocks, sometimes in the tens of thousands, which fly as one shimmering gray mass. Nest is a cup of vegetation on open tundra.
Probes with long bill in mud or sand for mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and other aquatic organisms.
An ornithologist friend once had dinner interrupted by a reporter who wanted to know more about interactions between the locally celebrated Dunlin swarms and Merlins. The ornithologist painstakingly detailed how a Merlin would watch a flock, hunt it, flush it, isolate a handful of birds--ultimately becoming a hapless single Dunlin--and would either miss that individual or kill it and eat it, consuming the sandpiper's muscle as well as its internal tissues. At this point there began a silence on the other end of the line. Finally, the question was asked, "Why can't they all just get along?"
Citation: Personal Experience. I observe this regularly, highly confident.
Expanded Life History
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