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What is a Greenshank?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Greenshanks are wading birds in the sandpiper family. During breeding season, they live mostly in northern Europe, and in the winter, they generally migrate to Africa and Asia, although in some cases they may migrate as far as Australia. The greenshank is about 14-inches (36 cm) long and weighs approximately 0.5 pounds (0.25 kg). They have long green legs, and their feathers are white with grayish brown speckles and a solid white underside. Greenshanks have a lifespan of approximately 10 years, and they have never been an endangered species, partly because they can survive across a wide range of habitats.

The greenshank generally hunts by wading in the shallow areas on the coast or in wetlands. Their walking pace is mostly a slow stalk until they spot a nearby target, at which point they can make a quick dash. Greenshanks tend to focus primarily on fish as their main source of food during most parts of the year, but they will also prey on insects, mollusks, worms and other small creatures. During breeding season, insects generally become a more important part of the diet. They usually time their hunts based on the tidal situation and water depth, which means they sometimes hunt during the day and sometimes at night.

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When feeding, the greenshank is generally solitary in its behavior. It is not unheard of to see a few of them together, but they usually feed alone, or in widely dispersed groups. They tend to be somewhat cautious and are quick to take flight if they feel any sense of threat. When roosting, the greenshank will often live in a large flock, and the birds tend to roost on the ground in open areas. When nesting, they usually prefer clearings in forested areas and will often place their nests near a piece of dead wood.

During mating season, the greenshank males arrive first and establish a territory. Once the females arrive, the males perform a special display flight high in the air. Breeding generally happens on the ground, close to the shoreline. When building a nest, they dig a shallow depression in the soil, and line it with grass and other plant matter. Greenshanks usually lay a clutch of three to five eggs, and they incubate for approximately 28 days, with females handling the largest part of the incubation duties. The males and females form pair bonds, but sometimes the males can be bonded with two females.

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