Named for its red-orange legs, the Redshank is a common and noisy wader of the United Kingdom. These wary birds are present throughout the year, although they are most numerous in the winter non-breeding season.
The Redshank is a fairly non-descript wader, although they have conspicuous long bright-orange legs and a long straight orange bill with a black tip. Their plumage is primarily brown, darker above than below, and variably speckled, and they may have a faint stripe through each eye.
In flight, the Redshank shows a pure white lower back and white secondary feathers that contrast with dark wingtips. Their plumage differs slightly depending on the time of year. Breeding birds are slightly darker and more boldly marked.
Females appear similar to males, although they are somewhat larger and have paler underparts. Juvenile Redshanks are similar to non-breeding adults but have bolder streaking on their underparts.
Waders, in general, pose a challenge for birdwatchers, and despite their colourful limbs and bills, Redshanks are no exception. These common waders can be confused with the much rarer Spotted Redshank and Ruff.
Redshank standing on a post
The Redshank is a medium-sized UK wader, smaller than the Godwits but larger than the Dunlin.
The Redshank has a total length of 27 to 29 centimetres. They are about as tall as they are long.
Redshanks weigh 85 to 184 grams, with an average of approximately 153 grams. Females are heavier than males.
These fast-flying birds have a wingspan of 59 to 66 centimetres.
Redshank foraging in a meadow
Redshanks are noisy birds, particularly in the breeding season when males make long display flights. Their vocalisations are variations of a ‘teeuu’ or ‘tyooo’ note, uttered just once on taking flight or sometimes repeated for several minutes in display.
Redshank standing on a post calling out
Red Shanks are carnivorous birds, perfectly adapted to extract their burrowing prey from the mud. They use their long straight bills to probe for invertebrates like worms and crustaceans, although they will take swimming prey like tadpoles and small fish when possible.
Redshank chicks are able to walk, run, and feed themselves soon after hatching. Like their parents, the young birds search for small wetland invertebrates on damp sand and mud.
Redshank probing for food
Redshanks are waders that inhabit a variety of tidal and freshwater wetland environments. Look out for these birds in the following habitats:
Redshanks can be seen in suitable habitats across much of the United Kingdom. They occur around virtually the entire coastline, particularly in the winter. Breeding birds range far inland in Scotland and northern England.
Elsewhere, Redshanks have a vast distribution in Europe, from Iceland to Russia. They occur across Asia to Japan and through Southeast Asia to Australia. They also visit Africa as far south as Angola and Tanzania.
Redshanks spend almost all their lives on the ground along estuaries, river and lake banks, and other shallow water environments. They occasionally swim and often perch prominently on posts and rocks.
Redshanks are fairly common waders in the United Kingdom, especially in the winter when their numbers more than double. The breeding population is approximately 22,00 pairs, and about 100,000 birds overwinter.
Redshanks are most numerous along estuaries and coastal marshes in the winter months. The southeast of England, Lancashire, and Northern Scotland support the most breeding birds in the spring and summer.
Redshank standing on a rock in a coastal lagoon stretching
Redshanks can live for over twenty years, although most birds have a life expectancy of about four years.
Redshanks are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the United Kingdom.
The Redshank is globally assessed as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List and is not endangered. In the United Kingdom, they have an amber conservation status due to declines both as a breeding and overwintering bird.
Redshank during the breeding season
Redshanks nest in low-lying wetland areas with good grass cover. Most pairs that nest in the UK occur in north-west England and Scotland. The female builds her nest alone, usually on the ground below dense vegetation and often at the base of a grass tussock.
Redshanks nest between April and June in the United Kingdom. Their eggs take 22 to 29 days to hatch, and the young birds gain flight after about a month.
Redshanks lay a single clutch of three to five (usually four) teardrop-shaped eggs. Each egg measures about 45 millimetres long and 32 millimetres wide and is a buff colour with bold brown speckles.
Redshanks frequently reunite with the same partner, and pairs may remain together for many consecutive years. However, they may seek a new partner after nest failure or the loss of a mate.
Nest of a Redshank with four eggs
Redshanks are most often seen singly or in pairs. However, they can be rather gregarious and frequently forage together, often with other species and sometimes in large flocks. They are not particularly aggressive, although some individuals may defend a feeding area.
Redshanks are active by day or night, and time their foraging by tides rather than time in coastal areas. They roost at high tide when their feeding areas are submerged.
Redshanks in conflict over territory
Redshanks are generally migratory, although some individuals remain in the United Kingdom throughout the year. Most of the breeding population moves south, often to France, for the non-breeding season. The population swells to about 100,000 in the winter when non-breeding birds visit from Iceland.
Redshanks are native to the United Kingdom and have not been introduced outside of their natural range.
Redshanks get their delightfully descriptive common name from their bright orange legs. They share this feature with a similar but much rarer wader, the Spotted Redshank.
Redshanks are usually spotted in small groups, although they may be seen singly or in large flocks. You are most likely to see bigger groups in the winter months when large numbers arrive to overwinter in the UK. Redshanks also migrate in flocks, although they generally fly after dark.
Redshanks can swim, although their long legs and unwebbed feet are not ideal for moving through the water. Birdwatchers are far likelier to spot them walking along the bank or wading in the shallows.
Redshanks frequently bob their heads and tails when alarmed. These shy and nervous birds often call in alarm and fly off before you can get a good look at them.
Family:Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
27cm to 29cm
59cm to 66cm
85g to 184g
The Eurasian woodcock spends days roosting in dense, damp woodland undergrowth, and evenings and nights foraging in open fields as well as woods for worms and beetles.
The UKs breeding population of Wood Sandpipers are limited to an area of swampy marshland in the Highlands of northern Scotland, although they are far more commonly sighted in passage during their spring and autumn migrations as they make brief stopovers in southern and eastern England.
A long-legged wader, closely related to the curlew, the Eurasian whimbrel, has small breeding populations established on the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney. Migrating whimbrels may be spotted along Britain’s coastlines as they undertake long-distance migration flights between Arctic tundra breeding grounds and wintering territories in Africa.
The Ruddy Turnstone is an attractive shorebird, frequently seen flipping stones in search of small creatures sheltering beneath. These long-distance migrants visit temperate and tropical coastlines across the globe but return to the Arctic each year to nest.
One of the smallest wading bird species to visit British shores, the Temminck’s stint is now classed as a ‘former breeder’ in the UK, with breeding pairs no longer regularly observed. Passage migrants may still be seen, particularly on the eastern coast in May.
Spotted redshanks have a distinctive black spotted summer plumage that UK residents are unlikely to see in birds on British shores, as the species is only a rare winter visitor or spotted in migration passage. Several hundred spotted redshanks make brief stopovers on British coastal wetlands each year, en-route to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.
The Snipe is a common but shy wader seen throughout the United Kingdom. These cryptic birds make a living by probing marshy ground for invertebrates in the mud below.
Sanderlings run tirelessly along sandy beaches, rushing down to feed as the waves recede and sprinting back, seemingly hoping to keep their feet dry. Their comical antics and non-descript looks belie an impressive avian that makes remarkable migrations between Arctic nesting grounds and overwintering grounds as distant as the southern tips of South America and South Africa.
A rare breeding wading bird in the UK, ruffs are among the most intriguing bird species on Earth, due to the diversity not just between males and females, but also between the three distinctly different types of males that occur.
Unlike many wading bird species, in red-necked phalaropes the traditional roles are reversed. The female is larger, brighter and leaves parental care of the young to the drabber, smaller male. Also, unusual for waders, red-necked phalaropes spend up to 9 months at sea once breeding in the upper northern hemisphere is complete.
A hardy wading bird that thrives in the bleak Arctic tundra landscapes of northeastern Canada, Greenland and Iceland, purple sandpipers arrive on wintering grounds along the northeastern coast of the United States and the UK each autumn, to forage for molluscs and crustaceans on rocky shores and coastal headlands.
Pectoral Sandpipers are mid-sized waders that breed on wet tundra landscapes across the northernmost extremes of North America and the Siberian Arctic. Their epic annual migration return trips of up to 30,000 km are one of the most lengthy of any bird species, similar to those undertaken by the Arctic tern.
One of the world’s smallest wading birds, little stints cover enormous distances on their annual migrations between breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle and winter territories in southern Africa and South Asia. A handful of individual birds spend winter in the UK, and records of vagrant birds reaching North America are occasionally reported.
Red knots, known simply as ‘knots’ in the UK are medium-sized shorebirds that undertake impressive annual migrations of up to 30,000 km (18,000 mi) each year between Arctic breeding grounds and southern coastal wintering habitats.
Highly camouflaged and elusive, the jack snipe is a small wading bird that spends winters on mudflats and freshwater wetlands across Britain. Smaller and less common than the UK’s other native snipe, the common snipe, jack snipes are harder to spot due to their tendency to crouch low and remain hidden among reeds.
The grey phalarope’s winter and summer plumage are so distinctly different that the species is known by an entirely different name in the US. In the UK, the bird’s name reflects its post-breeding plumage, which is dominated by light grey and white. However, in the US, it is known as the red phalarope, after the more vibrant orange-red plumage seen during the breeding season.
A medium wading bird, named after its brightly coloured legs, the greenshank breeds in northern Scotland, as well as further to the east across Scandinavia and Russia. In winter, an influx of greenshanks descends upon wetlands and marshes and along the coast of south-west England, Wales, Ireland and north-east Scotland. Tens of thousands of birds migrate significantly further afield, reaching the coasts of Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.
Green sandpipers are stocky shorebirds similar to the common sandpiper. They spend winters at inland freshwater wetlands in southern Europe and northern and central Africa after raising their young in swampy forests and wet woodland landscapes across northern Europe.
The Dunlin is a small wading bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae. Dunlins breed across North America and northern Europe, and Asia and are one of the most widely distributed wading birds, with ten subspecies.
Identified as being from a group of birds known as Waders, within North America they are generally referred to as Shorebirds. This monotypic species, a long distance migrant, is considered to have an Amber Conservation Status otherwise known as Near Threatened.
The largest European wading bird, the Eurasian curlew is easy to identify with its elongated bow-shaped bill and spindly legs. In winter groups of curlews known as ‘curfews’ forage together in coastal wetlands, and up to 66,000 pairs breed in the UK and are resident all year round.
Belonging to a group of birds generally called waders or shorebirds, the common sandpiper prefers freshwater habitats as opposed to saltwater locations.
An impressive, proud looking wader with particularly fine summer plumage which migrates south from its northern breeding grounds from July to October, returning for the summer from late February through April.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.