Sea Lark, Ebb Sleeper, Sea Mouse, Sand Mouse
Status: Summer visitor from NW Africa/SW Europe, winter visitor from Scandinavia to Siberia, passage migrant from Greenland (heading south to winter in Africa). Most occur during the mid-winter period.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland as the majority of Dunlins winter at less than ten sites. The European population has been evaluated as Depleted, due to a large historical decline.
Identification: One of the smaller waders and our most abundant one in winter and on passage. A limited number breed in some sandy / grassy locations along the west and north coasts. Plumage is highly variable - in summer, rich chestnut above, streaked on breast, white below with a striking black patch on the belly. The more usually encountered winter plumage bird shows a rather non-descript, uniform, plain brownish-grey on all upperparts and cold white underparts. Juveniles in autumn have warm brown tones on the upperparts and considerable streaking on the breast and underparts. There are many other variations and combinations, depending on the bird's state of moult. It is a rather dumpy bird, with black legs and a longish bill which downcurves slightly. Often occurs in very large flocks. An important bird to get to know (in all its plumages) if you want to successfully identify other similar-sized waders.
Call: A harsh churring trill - "thrrrreeep"
Diet: Feed predominantly on small invertebrates of estuarine mudflats, particularly polychaete worms and small gastropods. They feed in flocks, in the muddier sections of the estuaries and close to the tide edge.
Breeding: Nests on the ground in sparse, low vegetation - in Ireland favours machair habitats.
Wintering: Common along all coastal areas - especially on tidal mudflats and estuaries. Very few inland.
Where to see: Shannon & Fergus Estuary in County Clare and Dundalk Bay in County Louth regularly support >10,000 birds. Other important sites include Cork Harbour in County Cork, Lough Swilly in Donegal and Strangford Lough in Down (6,000- 9,000 birds).
Monitored by: Irish Wetland Bird Survey.