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Curlew on the shore

This blog, by Ranger Mark, gives some ‘at-a-glance’ wader identification tips based on bill size.

Waders, or wading birds, are best known for the variety of their bills and they have developed them to suit the habitat they feed in which helps to avoid competition from other birds.

Some examples of wading birds you may see along the Solent are listed below. For a full size view of the illustration please see the link at the bottom of the article.

Long billed waders


  • Very long and slim bill
  • Pronounced ‘gentle’ downward curve
  • Longest bill in adult females
  • In winter the lower mandible is flesh coloured
  • This wading bird uses its extraordinarily long downcurved bill to delve deep in the mud and sand to extract marine worms and crabs from their burrows.

Black-tailed godwit

  • Very long bill
  • Very straight bill, not slightly upcurved as in Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Bill is 12-15% longer in females


  • Medium and robust
  • Straight with no downward curve
  • The bill is red at the base of both the upper and lower bill
  • The redshank uses its long but less sturdy bill to pick tiny molluscs from the estuary mud or probe a little way beneath the surface for smaller crustaceans and other burrowing invertebrates, such as marine worms.

Short billed waders


  • Comparatively long for the size of the wader
  • Straight with a downcurved tip
  • Black


  • Short
  • Very straight and blunt looking
  • Black


  • Short bill
  • Chisel shaped, broad base and pointed tip
  • Black or dark grey

The turnstone lives up to its name by employing its short stout bill to flip over stones and seaweed on rocky shores and sheltered beaches, revealing small animals which it then seizes before they can escape.

Different Beaks, Different Food

Different Beaks, Different Food [pdf 285kb] (opens in a new window)