Grey-tailed tattler -- 灰尾漂鹬 (Heteroscelus brevipes)

Grey-tailed tattler in winter plumaged
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The grey-tailed tattler is a migratory bird, travelling huge distances from Siberia all the way to Australia.
  • The grey-tailed tattler is a small wading bird with a largely grey plumage.
  • Grey-tailed tattlers catch crabs by probing into their burrows, or fishing in shallow waters. Once caught, the crab is held in the bird’s bill and shaken to remove its legs.
  • Although the grey-tailed tattler is not globally threatened, it is considered to be Critically Endangered in the state of Victoria, Australia.
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Grey-tailed tattler fact file

Grey-tailed tattler description

GenusHeteroscelus (1)

The medium-sized grey-tailed tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes) has long wings and a long tail (3), and the breeding and non-breeding adults differ slightly in appearance. A non-breeding adult of this species is grey on the crown and back of the neck. It has a dark greyish-brown eye stripe on each side of the head which runs through the eye from the bill, and also has a long white eyebrow. The grey-tailed tattler’s upperparts are grey, whereas its underparts are white with a grey wash on the breast, sides of the neck and the flanks (4).

A breeding adult grey-tailed tattler has a white eyebrow that is speckled and streaked with black. Its white cheeks, throat and sides of the neck are also streaked with black (4), and dark brown barring is seen on its white underparts (3). All adult grey-tailed tattlers have dark brown eyes (3), a blackish bill and short, yellowish legs (5).

The juvenile grey-tailed tattler is similar to the non-breeding adult except that it has whitish spots on its upperparts (2).

The whistling call of the grey-tailed tattler has been described as a ‘tu-weet’ or ‘tu-whip’ when in flight, and a quick ‘tu-wiwi’ and ‘twiwiwi’ when calling in alarm (6).

Also known as
ashen tringine sandpiper, Gray-tailed tattler, grey sandpiper, grey-rumped sand-piper, grey-tailed sandpiper, Polynesian tattler, Siberian grey-tailed tattler, Siberian tattler, wandering tattler.
Tringa brevipes.
Chevalier de Sibérie.
Length: 23 - 27 cm (2)
Wingspan: 51 cm (2)
80 - 162 g (2)

Grey-tailed tattler biology

A species that is active in the daytime and roosts during the night, the grey-tailed tattler feeds by probing for worms, molluscs, crustaceans, insects and occasionally fish (9). Before it migrates to its Siberian mating grounds, it is believed that crabs play an increasingly important role in the grey-tailed tattler’s diet. This prey item can be caught in shallow water, in which the tattler may immerse its head completely so as to grab the crab with its bill. The grey-tailed tattler will repeatedly throw down the crab in order to remove the legs, finally washing it prior to feeding (3). This species locates its prey by sight (9), and can be seen bobbing and teetering as it darts around foraging (3). The grey-tailed tattler forages either alone or in loose groups (2).

The grey-tailed tattler breeds from late May to late August beside stony riverbeds in Siberia, and is generally a ground-nesting bird. It builds its nest in a shallow depression, although it may also use the abandoned nests of other birds, and lays a clutch of approximately four eggs (2). Grey-tailed tattlers first begin to breed at about two and a half years of age (7), and both sexes care for the young (2).

Grey-tailed tattlers are generally found near to, but not among, other shorebird species (7).


Grey-tailed tattler range

A migratory species, the grey-tailed tattler breeds in Siberia and Kamchatka, and winters in Indonesia, the Philippines and Australasia. This species migrates via Japan and Australia, and non-breeding individuals are most commonly seen along the coasts of northern Australia (7). It is considered a rare vagrant in western North America and western Europe (8).


Grey-tailed tattler habitat

Non-breeding grey-tailed tattlers migrate to sheltered coasts where there are reefs, rock platforms or intertidal mudflats. Non-breeding habitats for this species include rocky shores with shingle, gravel and shells, as well as around estuaries and coastal lagoons, particularly those with mangroves (3).

The banks of stony riverbeds provide ideal breeding habitat for the grey-tailed tattler (7) (8).


Grey-tailed tattler status

The grey-tailed tattler is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Grey-tailed tattler threats

The grey-tailed tattler is not considered to be globally threatened due to its extremely large range and stable global population (10). This species is, however, recognised as threatened in the state of Victoria in Australia, but despite this no direct conservation efforts have been decided (7).

Threats to the grey-tailed tattler include wetland habitat loss and degradation on its migration route, pollution of the environment, reduced river flow, and tidal power plants and other human disturbances causing a loss of suitable habitat (7)


Grey-tailed tattler conservation

Despite its stable global population, in the state of Victoria in Australia the grey-tailed tattler is listed as threatened on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act of 1988, and as Critically Endangered on the 2007 Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria. Considered to have undergone a local population decline of at least 20 to 29 percent over the last 25 years, the grey-tailed tattler is also listed on the 2010 Action Plan for Australian birds (7).

Conservation objectives for the grey-tailed tattler in Australia include stabilising the non-breeding population and minimising disturbance at key roosting and feeding sites. Management actions proposed are to work with governments and local communities to prevent the loss of key migratory staging sites, as well as restoring wetland habitat and important roosting and feeding sites (7).

As with some other Australian bird species, the grey-tailed tattler is protected across parts of its range, such as Barrow Island Nature Reserve on the coast of Western Australia (11).


Find out more

Find out more about the grey-tailed tattler:



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Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (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.
Pertaining to the intertidal zone, the region between the high tide mark and low tide mark.
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.
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife Australia - Grey-tailed tattler (November, 2012)
  4. Geering, A, Agnew, L. and Harding, S. (2007) Shorebirds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  5. Marchant, J., Hayman, P. and Prater, T. (2010) Shorebirds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  6. Robson, C. (2005) New Holland Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers, London.
  7. Garnett, S., Szabo, J. and Dutson, G. (2012) The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  8. MobileReference (2009) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds: An Essential Guide to Birds of Europe. MobileReference, Boston.
  9. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2013) Tringa breviceps. In: Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at:
  10. BirdLife International - Grey-tailed tattler (November, 2012)
  11. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Birds of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:

Image credit

Grey-tailed tattler in winter plumaged  
Grey-tailed tattler in winter plumaged

© Don Hadden /

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