Protecting Redshanks around the Bay

Protecting Redshanks around the Bay

Morecambe Bay Partnership is making it easy for residents and visitors to Morecambe Bay to spot its ‘Bird of the Month’ this month, by choosing one of only two wading birds that have red legs.

The bird in question is the redshank - often a migrant arriving on the shores of the Bay from Iceland ahead of winter, although some can be seen all year round.  There are around 25,000 breeding pairs resident in the UK all year and 130,000 redshank which just over-winter.

The redshank really needs the love and attention that being a bird of the month brings. Its preference is to nest on the ground on saltmarsh, blissfully unaware that this makes it difficult to spot by those strolling by, or people having the dog take them for a walk.

In breeding season, this can become disastrous, as a mother redshank can easily be scared and abandon the nest in fright, only to find that a gull swoops to snatch either her eggs or her young chicks.  Just as painful would be the anguish of a mother redshank who finds her time away from the nest leads to the eggs not having enough warmth to incubate.

So, what do we all need to look out for? Well, the redshank is a bold and notoriously noisy bird and often the first to raise the alarm when feeding amongst a flock, so if you hear it and then spot it, it may be the case that its nest is out on the saltmarsh.

This species has a range of different calls, some sounding a little like squeaks and the alarm call being a long tyuuuu.  Listen to this recording of the call, which may help with identification.

Whilst the red legs are usually the best means of identifying the redshank, as the only other wader with red or orange-red legs is the spotted redshank, it has other features that assist identification.  This 28-cm long bird has a medium-length, dark bill, with an orange base, a brown speckled back and wings, which can turn grey in summer, and a pale underwing.  A paler, speckled belly is also a giveaway to its identity.  In flight, it has a white triangular wedge up its back and a wide white triangle on its rear.

When it comes to food, this species is naturally drawn to Morecambe Bay, where it can enjoy a food feast of its favourite delights – molluscs, crustaceans, earthworms and insects.  To seek out its meals, the redshank will probe sand and mud with its beak and then enjoy! 

“Because the food of Morecambe Bay is so irresistible for the redshank, local residents and visitors can really be instrumental in helping to safeguard this wader,”

says Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Waders and Wildfowl Project Manager, Annabelle Kennedy.

“All of our breeding waders are in danger and in dire need of protection, so our bird of the month initiative not only allows people to learn more and appreciate all the little quirks of a bird, but also understand how important it is to protect them.

“To accomplish both these things, we are highlighting that the redshank is a great bird to head out to spot, because of its distinctive red legs and its bolder behaviour when on the mudflats either side of high tide, when it needs to fill up on food to provide energy and warmth. 

“We are then encouraging people to take pictures from a respectful distance, given that our birds need sufficient rest and food even when not breeding, before sharing these with us with the hashtag #birdsofthebay  In this way, everyone can learn how to identify them and become much more passionate about looking after them.”

There are many places at which to spot this bird around the Bay, with some being Hest Bank, Teal Bay and Half Moon Bay.  Volunteers in blue fleeces – the Natural Ambassadors – are often at sites like this, ready to chat about the waders and wildfowl that can be seen using their binoculars and telescopes.  This can be a real treat for those dipping into the world of wildlife and wanting to know more.

Image credit: Ken Smith