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.
Spotted redshanks are medium-sized graceful waders, with two distinct seasonal plumages. In summer, adult spotted redshanks have a glossy black plumage, marked with white ‘spotting’ on their wings.
The spotty markings are in fact white edging to wing feathers, which creates an overall dotted effect. A white wedge-shaped patch is visible at the base of the tail in flight, and their tail is barred with black and white.
In winter, both male and female spotted redshanks adopt a rather less striking non-breeding plumage, with pale off-white underparts, light grey back and darker grey wings. Their head is grey, and marked with a bold white eye stripe.
Unlike the similar common redshank, spotted redshanks lack the barred wing markings in their winter plumage.
Spotted Redshank - Summer Plumage (breeding)
Spotted Redshank - Winter Plumage (non-breeding)
In both summer and winter, spotted redshanks have distinctive long red legs, and a long thin bill, which is red on the bottom half and dark greyish-black on the upper half.
Females and males both display similar markings in summer and in winter, although in summer, the female’s black plumage shows more spotting than that of the male.
Juvenile spotted redshanks are mottled dark grey all over, have a prominent light eye stripe, and have the characteristic red legs and lower red bill seen in adult birds.
Spotted redshanks are reasonably large but graceful wading birds, with long legs making them one of the tallest waders to visit the UK. Females are often slightly larger and heavier than males all year round.
Spotted Redshank wading through the water
Spotted redshanks can be heard both in flight and while feeding, with the most recognisable sound made a rising “du-it”, “chu-it” or “tee-veet” whistle, usually made as a contact call or made after a nest site is disturbed.
The usual diet of spotted redshanks is chiefly based on aquatic insects and their larvae, flying insects, crustaceans, molluscs, worms, small fish and amphibians.
Spotted redshanks feed by pecking, probing and jabbing the ground, or moving their bill from side to side through water with a sweeping motion. They are also observed to feed at night as well as during daylight hours.
Young spotted redshanks are fairly independent from an early stage and follow the same diet as adult birds, mainly eating insect larvae, small crustaceans, flies, worms and small fish.
Close up of a Spotted Redshank foraging for food in the water
Breeding grounds for spotted redshanks are usually found in woodland tundra landscapes, with open heathland and shrubby expanses of moorland also popular. Coniferous and mixed woodland are also regularly chosen as nest locations.
Once breeding is complete, spotted redshanks head to coastal mudflats, estuaries and lagoons.
Spotted redshanks breed from northern Norway, across Fennoscandinavia and northern Russia into Siberia. Their wintering grounds lie to the south, with a handful scattered across Britain and Ireland, but the majority are found in southern Europe, central Africa, west India, and as far east as South East Asia.
In winter, large populations of spotted redshanks take up temporary residence in Mali, Egypt, south-central Asia, and along the floodplain of China’s Yangtze River.
Countries with the most notable breeding populations include Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
Spotted Redshanks are mainly spotted in mudflats, estuaries and lagoons - after breeding in woodland and heathland
Spotted redshanks are relatively rare overwintering visitors on British shores, but are slightly more commonly spotted in migrant passage. According to BTO data, 68 spotted redshanks overwinter in the UK, with a further 540 observed in migration passage.
During winter, the best place to stand a chance of a spotted redshank sighting is at coastal wetlands, with sites in North Kent and Essex, Hampshire and West Wales regularly reporting visiting birds between autumn and early spring.
Spotted Redshank in flight
Spotted redshanks are assumed to have a similar average lifespan to common redshanks - around 4 years. Occasionally older ringed individuals are found, with one example bird found to have reached 7 years and 5 months. Breeding occurs for the first time at one year old.
Known to be wary birds, spotted redshanks will take flight at the first threat of an intruder. Their ground-level nests are vulnerable to predation, particularly from crows, magpies, jackdaws and jays.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, offers protection to spotted redshanks in Britain against being intentionally killed, injured or captured. Destroying or damaging their eggs and nest site are also considered offences under this Act.
In the UK, spotted redshanks are rated as an Amber species on the Birds of Conservation Concern list. The species is considered rare and scarce in Britain, with more than half of the population found at fewer than 10 sites across the country each winter.
Spotted Redshank resting on the wetlands
Spotted redshank nests are shallow scrapes in the ground, with a few leaves, pine needles, moss or other plant parts used as a basic lining. Nest locations are chosen on boggy or marshland or among grassy tussocks, in close proximity to woodlands and areas of swampy forest.
A typical spotted redshank clutch consists of between 3 and 5 olive to pale green eggs that are blotched with dark brown-purple streaks. The eggs, which measure 47 mm × 32.3 mm are incubated for 23 to 24 days.
The female’s involvement in incubation tails off as the days pass, and by the final week, it’s common for the male alone to be left as the sole guardian of the eggs and young.
Pair bonds formed between breeding spotted redshanks are short-lived. In a reversal to breeding patterns seen in many bird species, males incubate the eggs largely without any female assistance, and by the time the young hatch, males have been left to care for their young alone.
Juvenile Spotted Redshank with a caught fish
During the courtship and breeding season, males are observed to be highly aggressive and territorial, clashing physically with each other in quite spectacular aerial fights.
Once breeding is complete, females gather in large flocks together and move on to moulting grounds together.
Roosting spots are chosen at shallow roost ponds and on the edges of salt marshes at high tide. Such sites offer safety from land predators.
A small group of Spotted Redshank wading through the water
Once the breeding season comes to a close, spotted redshanks migrate south, leaving northern Europe and Siberia for milder wintering grounds across Europe.
They migrate from northern European across and northern Siberian breeding areas, to winter in Europe, Africa, China and South-east Asia.
Family:Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
29cm to 31cm
61cm to 67cm
140g to 200g
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.
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.
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.
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.