Common Greenshank

Common greenshanks (Tringa nebularia) are large waders in the family Scolopacidae, which contains shanks and tattlers.

Description and Distribution

Common greenshanks have a brownish-grey outer feather plumage in the summer that turns more grey and muted during the winter months. The outer feathers are generally spotted with darker shades of grey around the edges, giving way to a speckled breast, neck, and head, which is of course more striking during the summer breeding months.

Perhaps the most difficult bird to tell them apart from in terms of plumage is the very similarly-plumaged marsh sandpiper. (Entry in-progress….as soon as I manage to photo one!) The main details to look out for though are that the lower beak of the common greenshank is tapered at the end, giving the beak an overall upturned appearance. The marsh sandpiper’s beak is more traditional. Additionally, as you can see from the photo below, there is no distinct supercilium (eyebrow) on the common greenshank, while the marsh sandpiper has a fairly distinct white supercilium. Finally, the common greenshank has a bit of dark coloring at the base of the beak (the “lore”), while the marsh sandpiper has a fully white face.

Common greenshanks breed in the Palearctic from Scotland to Siberia, and winters in southern Africa through the Indian subcontinent and Austrailasia. Many more winter in Africa than elsewhere. They pass through central and southern Europe and central Asia during their migration. Vagrants have been reported in some coasts and islands of the eastern Americas, but they are by and large an Old World wader.

Behavior and Ecology

They are not gregarious birds and will usually be seen on their own or in small mixed flocks. These birds prefer fresh water but will also winter along coastal shores. They eat manly small invertebrates and crustaceans, but will also eat fish and amphibians if available. They are very widespread, and they are not currently listed as vulnerable, but any bird reliant on wetlands at least somewhat at risk of habitat loss.