Dunlins have a circumpolar breeding distribution, from arctic North America and Eurasia south in Europe to the southern Baltic, Ireland and Great Britain. In Britain they nest mostly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and in the Pennines, with small numbers also in central Wales and on Dartmoor. Bird Atlas 2007-2011 recorded an 11% decrease in the British breeding distribution since the publication of the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas, mainly due to loss of habitat in marginal upland areas.

 The species winters south as far as central America, west and northeast Africa, Arabia, northwest India and around the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. Great Britain holds 42% of the Dunlins estimated to be in Atlantic Europe in winter, when they have a predominantly coastal distribution favouring large muddy estuaries.

            In Wiltshire the absence of suitable feeding sites before the 1950s meant that the only records of Dunlins were of the occasional passage migrant. After 1956 the development of the Cotswold Water Park(CWP) and changes at other sites, notably Coate Water,  created a limited amount of suitable habitat and Dunlins became more regular visitors, mostly in small numbers on passage but including some larger groups in winter (100 at the CWP in December 1991 and 58 there in January 1992, 18 at Coate Water in December 1991 and 39 at Inglesham in November 1998) and up to 25 at a time of spring passage migrants in May.


The following references are used throughout these species accounts, in the abbreviated form given in quotation marks:

“1968-72 Breeding Atlas” – Sharrack, J.T.R. 1976:  The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser

“1981-84 Winter Atlas” – Lack, P.C. 1986The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser

1988-91 Breeding Atlas” – Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. & Chapman, R.A. 1993: The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1988-91. T. & A. Poyser

Birds of Wiltshire” – Ferguson-Lees, I.J. et al. 2007 : Birds of Wiltshire, published by the tetrad atlas group of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society after mapping fieldwork 1995-2000. Wiltshire Ornithological Society.

“Bird Atlas 2007-2011” – Balmer, D.E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B.J., Swann, R.L., Downie, I.S. and Fuller, R.J. 2013: Bird Atlas 2007-2011: the Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland

WTA2” – ("Wiltshire Tetrad Atlas 2 ") the present electronic publication, bringing together the Wiltshire data from “Birds of Wiltshire” and “Bird Atlas 2007-11”, together with data from further fieldwork carried out in 2011 and 2012.

"Hobby" - the annual bird report of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society.