The Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia, is a heavily built wader which enjoys its own company. They are usually found alone or in pairs, but rarely in a big group. They have a white head and neck marked with dark grey flecks, a white eye ring, and a white underbody. The grey-brown wings of adults is distinguishable from the browner colour present in young birds. A dark outer-wing and white rump can be seen when in flight, as well as a white wedge on their backs.
In the non-breeding season, their plumage is a smooth grey-brown on their wings and back. Their breast is slightly speckled with a white belly. During breeding season, they have black chevrons (V-shaped marks) on their chests and their upper bodies are more noticeably streaked.
To help distinguish the Common Greenshank from the physically similar Marsh Sandpiper, T. stagnatilis, take note of the slender and needle-like bill of the Marsh Sandpiper, in contrast to the upturned bill of the Greenshank. The rapid “choo, choo, choo” flight call can be used to help identify Greenshanks and their tendency to bob their heads when alarmed.
Common Greenshanks tend to occupy a variety of inland wetland and coastal habitats, such as mudflats, mangroves, sewage farms, and swamps. Their dark green-grey bills are used to search the surface of mudflats and shallows for molluscs, small fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates to eat during the day and night. Long yellow-green legs allow them to walk along the shoreline and chase fish in shallow water.
Although they don’t breed in Australia, Common Greenshanks have the widest distribution of any shorebird in the country and are commonly seen in the summer. They are also found throughout coastal Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Philippines and southern New Guinea. Waves of Common Greenshanks leave Australia in February and early March to fly north to the Arctic region to breed. Some of the birds from southern Australia fly up to northern Australia and leave at the same time as the northern populations, whereas other southern populations leave at a later time.
Male Greenshanks will establish a territory and engage in display flights, during which they rise up and down in the air and sing. They will also often build multiple nests near solid structures such as rocks or trees, lining them with feathers and vegetation before a female will select one. Both males and females share the incubation and raising of the young.
Marsh Sandpiper | Nordmann’s Greenshank
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Common Greenshank by Dan Weller © 2017. Used with permission.
Common Greenshank in flight by Ed Dunens via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Common Greenshank in non-breeding plumage by Artur Rydzewski via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Common Greenshank in breeding plumage by Charles J Sharp via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) by Lip Kee via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Greenshank calling by Peter Carr via YouTube
Greenshank feeding by Michael Linklater via YouTube
Distribution map of breeding & non-breeding grounds of the Common Greenshank by Milly Formby © 2019.
Common Greenshank, Sheung Shui, Hong Kong by Eugene Lim via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Content written by Stephanie Stylli and edited by Amellia Formby for Wing Threads © 2018.