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 Greenshank - Fact File


Tringa nebularia
Breeds in northern Scotland. Winters more widely on west and south coasts, with largest numbers in Ireland. Regular on eastern coasts on passage.
Breeds on wet moorland and upland bogs. Winters on estuaries and coastal creeks. On passage, can turn up on any wetland habitat including inland marshes.

Rather plain, but pale plumage, long gently up-turned bill and long pale green legs give it a distinctive and elegant look. In flight, shows white rump and back, but lacks Redshanks white wing markings. Evocative ringing triple whistling call.

30cm (12")


Many an enthusiastic bird-watcher has become a keen collector of the fascinating series of books written by Desmond Nethersole-Thompson. Some of his earliest titles are very difficult to find today. Such publications as The Snow Bunting and The Greenshank have become collectors' pieces because of their rarity. As a result of the latter monograph, followed 28 years later by Greenshanks, the bird's breeding biology is probably better known than any other wader.

I always enjoy seeing greenshank. Visiting Hardley Flood alongside the river Chet I found a group of four busily feeding, one and then another dashing through the water with head outstretched and half-opened bill partly immersed. Tiring, all alighted on stranded tree trunks swept into the shallows by winter storms.

Later and despite being hundreds of miles from breeding grounds, two greenshank performed flight dances in which they turned and swerved at speed over the Flood. Higher and higher the dark specks climbed before disappearing into a cloud when their wild piping was only faintly heard.

Greenshank in flightThe following day we visited Welney Reserve in the Fens. Here too greenshanks were on show. Watching from the splendidly constructed Buxton and Allport observation hides we feasted our eyes on parties of up to half a dozen. One individual decided to bathe: a most energetic affair. Thrashing the water with opened wings, the bird repeatedly disappeared completely underwater.

Greenshank spend the summer in wild country, haunting the great flows of Sutherland. In northern Europe they nest in Scandinavia and Russia, being found in coniferous forests, in birch and willow zones and in the great forest marshes dotted with large and small lakes.

At this season in recent years fortunate observers have recorded impressive flights of greenshanks including 45 on Breydon, 25 at both Holkham and Welney and 20 at Gunton Park Great Water.

The 'autumn' return which usually commences in early July (and exceptionally during late June) is usually on a more impressive scale extending to 36 at Snettisham, 39 at Holme, 40 at Burnham Norton, Blythburgh and Blakeney, 45 at Breydon and at Titchwell, 49 at Holkham, 60 at Cley and a massive 84 on Havergate Island.

.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.