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What is a wader?

The term wader is used by birdwatchers to describe closely related species which share features such as relatively long legs, long beaks and spend most of their time in wetland areas in winter. There are a few exceptions such as the Grey Phalarope, which spends the winter on the open sea! The term wader is also sometimes used to describe some members of the Heron family as they hunt for food by wading in shallow water.

Waders can be described as birds that live on the edge. The edge referring to that area of ground between dry land and salt or fresh water. Most avoid swimming and so are pushed back and forth by coming and going of the tide

waders on an estuary at dawn
Waders on an estuary at dawn
Where to look for waders

Waders can be found all around our coast especially on estuaries and sandy beaches but also on rocky areas. Some species such as the Oystercatcher and Black-tailed Godwit will also feed on wet and damp grassland. One of our most abundant winter visitors, the Golden Plover, rarely feed on estuaries, spending almost all their time feeding in fields. The distinctive black and white form of the Oystercatcher is a familiar sight on playing fields in winter. Waders such as Snipe prefer boggy areas and Turnstone and Purple Sandpipers like rocky shores.

Where do they come from?

To give an idea of how important Ireland is for waders the table below, click on the links below to illustrate the number of countries whose breeding waders depend on Ireland during the winter and on migration.

Oystercatcher Ringed Plover Golden Plover
Snipe Redshank Lapwing
Grey Plover Knot Greenshank
Dunlin Curlew Turnstone
Black-tailed Godwit Bar-tailed Godwit

As well as these regular visitors there is always the chance of a rare visitor. These birds usually appear in the autumn or spring, at the height of the migration period but also turn up at any other time of the year.

Most are blown off course by strong winds and come from North America and Asia. When trying to identify a wader always eliminates the common species before considering what you have seen is a rarity.

All images and text © Jim Wilson 2001.

© RTÉ 2011
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