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.
Common greenshank

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.  

Common greenshank - non-breeding plumage
Non-breeding plumage - October to March
Common greenshank - breeding plumage
Breeding plumage - April to September

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 greenshank
Common Greenshank
Marsh sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper
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.
Meet The Shorebirds distribution map - Common Greenshank

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.

Four eggs of a Common Greenshank in a nest on the ground
Greenshank nest with eggs.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

Least Concern

Australian EPBC Act

Least Concern

Similar Species

Image credits:
Stephanie Stylli
Author
Stephanie has volunteered as an Ambassador Program Project Officer for Wing Threads through Remember the Wild, Australia’s first nature connection charity, since 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology from The University of Melbourne.

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