Wading Birds

What are Wading birds?

Waders are birds that wade in and feed on shorelines. Some birds wade in shallow water, while others feed on rocky shores. Waders generally have long legs and bills which enable them to forage for food in deep, moving waters. They also usually have long toes that help them balance steadily in silt, sand and mud. Some waders, such as Herons have powerful neck muscles which they use to spear fish.

Grey heron, bird, nature

Where to spot Waders?

Waders are best spotted along coastal shorelines, marshes, inland lagoons, reservoirs, lakes, rivers and estuaries. Rising tide is the best time to spot waders on coastal shorelines. At low tide, the shore can be so vast it disperses the birds and by high tide many birds will have cut their losses and returned to their roosts. As most waders are migratory it’s worth investing in a good field guide to get the most out of spotting them.

Are Waders in decline?

Sadly, according to studies, wader populations are in decline. The most effected species include Ringed plovers whose numbers have fallen by 39% in 10 years, while the Redshank have dropped by 26% and the Dunlin have dropped by 23%.

Conservationists, cite climate change as the main factor for these declines. As many species of Wader migrate to the UK from northern climes, fewer young waders may be being successfully reared in their rapidly warming Arctic breeding grounds.


Five Types of Wader to spot

  • Coot and Moorhen

  • Moorhen, wading bird, nature

Although two of Britain’s most well-loved waterfowl, it can be easy to mix these birds up. The Coot however, has black plumage with a white beak and forehead, whereas, the Moorhen has white flecks in its black plumage and a bright red beak with a yellow tip.

Coots make large, untidy nests on the water in early spring. They lay up to nine eggs at a time and chicks are generally hardy, becoming independent after around 8 weeks. Coots are easily spotted in lakes, ponds and wetlands.

Moorhens are slightly smaller than Coots. They can fly if disturbed but their flight is short and laboured. Male Moorhens will seek out a mate in early Spring by pursuing her with his beak in the water. Pairs will bond quickly and eagerly defend their nest once eggs are laid. They can be found anywhere from reservoirs to urban waterways and ponds.


  • Curlew

curlew, wading bird, on beach, nature

Curlews are one of the easiest Waders to identify. This is partly due to their unusually shaped sloping bill which is particularly sensitive and durable, enabling it to feel around heavy silt and mud for prey.

Curlews can be found in many of the UK’s waterways and their numbers are not restricted to the countryside, indeed they are often sited along urban waterways such as the Severn, the Thames and the Humber. They tend to be most prevalent in Winter when around 140,000 Curlews make the UK their home.

  • Grey Plover

grey plover, wading bird, by seashore, nature

Grey Plovers are generally seen in small numbers, although flocks can form when there is a high tide. The Grey plover likes sandy and muddy estuaries and can be mainly spotted along quiet coastlines.

Some Grey Plovers remain in the UK over summer but most arrive around autumn and take flight again by mid spring.

Plovers have a particular way of foraging their prey. They can be spotted by the way they, stand still watching the water intently before running forward, pecking with their long bills before repeating the process.

  • Bar -Tailed Godwit

bartailed godwit, wading bird, nature

The Bar-tailed godwit is one of the largest waders. It breeds in Arctic Scandinavia and Siberia, and migrates to the UK over winter flocking in estuaries such as the Thames, Dee, Humber and Wash.

There are two Godwit species in the UK. One is the black-tailed Godwit and the other is the bar-tailed Godwit.

Though both types look quite similar when wading it is reasonably easy to tell the difference once they take flight. Black-tailed godwits always have a bold black and white stripe on each wing, as well as a black and white tail which makes them stand out from their plainer plumaged cousins.