Common greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
|Also known as:||Eurasian greenshank, greater greenshank, greenshank|
|Size||Length: 30 - 35 cm (2)|
Wingspan: 68 - 70 cm (2)
|Weight||125 - 290 g (2)|
The common greenshank is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The largest species in the genus Tringa, the common greenshank (Tringa nebularia) is an elegant wading bird with a long, stout, slightly upturned bill and long, yellowish- to greyish-green legs (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). It has a relatively long neck, and the bill is grey with a darker tip (3) (5) (6).
Outside of the breeding season, the common greenshank is largely grey above and white below, with darker wings, grey streaks on the head and neck, and a whitish tail. Breeding adults have heavy dark streaking and spotting on the upperparts, head, neck and upper breast. At all times of year, this species has a white rump which extends into a distinctive white wedge up the back, visible in flight (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The male and female common greenshank are similar in appearance (4), but females average slightly larger (2). Juveniles resemble the non-breeding adults, but have browner upperparts with buff edges to the feathers, and more streaking on the neck and breast (2) (4) (5).
The calls of the common greenshank include a loud, ringing tchew-tchew-tchew or teu-teu-teu, given in flight, as well as a sharp chip alarm call (3) (4) (5) (6). The flight of this species is rapid and often zigzagging (4), and during flight its toes extend slightly beyond the tip of the tail (4) (5).
The common greenshank breeds across Europe and Asia, from northern Scotland and Scandinavia, east through central Asia and Russia, to eastern Siberia. A migratory species, it moves south to spend the winter in western Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa, through the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula to Southeast Asia, and as far south as Australia (2) (4) (6). Some non-breeding individuals may remain in the wintering grounds year-round (2).
This species is sometimes also recorded outside of its normal range, for example in the Caribbean and in Iceland (7).
In its breeding grounds, the common greenshank is found in the taiga zone, in forest clearings, woody moorland, open bogs and marshes, and eutrophic lakes (lakes with high nutrient levels and algal growth) with margins of dead and decaying vegetation (2) (7). However, it avoids dense, closed forest and bare, barren expanses (7).
On migration, this species uses inland flooded meadows, dried up lakes, sandbars and marshes. In winter it can be found in a great variety of freshwater and marine habitats, including estuaries, swamps, salt marshes, mangroves, coastal flats, lakes and rivers. It will also use artificial wetlands such as sewage farms, salt-works and inundated rice fields (2) (4) (7), and is less often found along open coastline (2) (7).
The common greenshank forages by both day and night, feeding on a variety of insects and their larvae, but also taking crustaceans, molluscs, worms, amphibians and small fish. This species has even been recorded eating rodents and lizards (2) (4). It usually feeds by pecking or probing as it walks through shallow water, or by sweeping the bill sideways through the water (2) (6). An active feeder, it sometimes runs with erratic changes of direction as it searches for or pursues prey (2) (4). Common greenshanks may feed alone, in small flocks, or in larger flocks numbering into the hundreds (2) (4) (7).
The breeding season of the common greenshank runs from late April to June (2). The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground, lined with some plant material. It is built in the open, but is typically placed near to a rock, tree, fence or piece of dead wood, which may help to mark its location (2) (4). The female common greenshank usually lays four eggs, but clutch size can vary from three to five. The eggs are incubated by both adults and hatch after around 22 to 26 days (2).
The young common greenshanks are pale grey with brownish-black markings and a white belly, and fledge at 25 to 31 days old (2). One of the adults, usually the female, may leave the breeding grounds before the chicks have fledged, with the other adult and the juveniles following from three to six weeks later (2) (7). The common greenshank is thought to first breed at two years old, and this species has been recorded living for over 15 years in the wild (4).
With its extensive range and relatively stable population, the common greenshank is not currently considered globally threatened (7). However, it may face a number of localised threats. For example, pollution, reduced river flows and human disturbance are destroying and degrading its wetland habitats around the Yellow Sea (7), and many of the areas this species uses on migration through eastern Asia are being degraded by the reclamation of mudflats for development (4).
Other threats to the common greenshank’s wetland habitats include oil exploration and extraction, farming, development, industrial pollution, invasive species and siltation. This species may also be affected by disturbance from human activities such as recreation, fishing and shellfish harvesting (4).
The common greenshank is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (8), and is also covered under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which calls on parties to undertake actions to protect bird species that are dependent on wetland habitats (9).
This species is likely to benefit from conservation initiatives for migratory shorebirds in various parts of its range, such as the Shorebirds 2020 project in Australia. It would also benefit from the identification and protection of key migration stopover sites (4).
Find out more about the common greenshank:
Find out more about wetland conservation and about the conservation of migratory shorebirds:
Shorebirds 2020 Shorebird Conservation:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Algae: simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- Crustaceans: diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- Eutrophication: a process in which a water body is enriched with excessive nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) resulting in the excessive growth of aquatic plants and the depletion of oxygen, creating unfavourable conditions for other organisms, such as fish.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Larvae: stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Molluscs: a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Taiga: the sub-Arctic forest of the high northern latitudes that surrounds the pole and is mainly composed of coniferous trees.
IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
Australian Government - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2011) Tringa nebularia. In: Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at:
- Robson, C. (2007) New Holland Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers, London.
- MacKinnon, J. and Phillipps, K. (2000) A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
BirdLife International (February, 2011)
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (February, 2011)
Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (February, 2011)