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 Spotted Redshank - Fact File
Spotted Redshank
Tringa erythropus
Passage migrant, with some birds wintering.
Passage birds on both freshwater and coastal marshes, lakesides, estuaries and lagoons.
White spotted black breeding plumage illustrated is unique. Winter and juvenile plumages more like Redshank, but has longer legs and bill (which is only red on lower mandible), and in flight shows plain wings (Redshank shows prominent white wing patch.
30 cm (12")



Spotted Redshank

IWe were fortunate when visiting the Suffolk Blyth estuary in May: the first mudbanks were just appearing, a host of wading birds soon put in an appearance, among them 10 spotted redshank. These elegant northern travellers are a Maytime feature on this stretch of tideway.

Unmistakable, each was dressed in splendid sooty-black breeding plumage complete with prominent white spotting on the mantle and scapulars and white eye-ring. At close range the long needle-like bill could be detected.

Spotted redshank are energetic feeders, often up to their flanks in water and at times swimming, immersing head and neck completely and up-ending like ducks. One and then another regularly adopted a side-to-side scything movement in the manner of an avocet. Later, the birds formed a tight group in a rapidly emptying creek before all began wading in one direction, almost touching, before turning together and then wading back again, rapidly feeding with traditional sideways movements.

These waders are equally at home in salt, brackish and freshwater habitats. Nesting grounds are almost entirely within the Arctic Circle from Norway eastwards through Finland to the forest zone of Siberia. Most migrate southward to winter in the Mediterranean region and in Africa south to the Equator and even to South Africa. A few over-winter locally.

Titchwell, Brancaster and Breydon are often favoured in spring. In midsummer non-breeding spotted redshanks regularly appear locally. One year a high total of 60 remained a full month on the Wash muds at Snettisham.

Spotted redshank share their forest-marsh nesting grounds with wood sandpipers, greenshank, whimbrel, jack snipe and broad-billed sandpipers. Noisy birds, their distinctive 'tchuet' flight calls are constantly heard.

The male performs a dramatic sky dance. Fortunate observers have described descents of almost incredible swiftness and upward sweeps of equal speed. And all accompanied by a rattling motion of the wings and an excitable song. This activity intensifies during the hours of twilight around midnight.

Female spotted redshank form flocks and some leave breeding grounds up to a week before eggs hatch. Others desert partners with broods at an early stage. Within three days of birth a brood of young may have been led a distance of almost a mile. The males, accompanied by the juveniles, follow during the second half of July and August.

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.