Picture of a group of children looking out over the Harbour

All About Greenshanks ...

Find out all about Greenshanks - where they live, what they eat, why they migrate.

All About Greenshanks

Chief ShankRuler / Orange Carton

This is Chief Shank. He is a greenshank. He is about 30 cm tall and weighs about 250 grams, which is the same as a small carton of fruit juice.


This is a real greenshank. It is a wading bird. It has long legs and a long beak for wading in water and finding its food. It has green legs which give it its name.


Greenshanks eat mainly fish and shrimps. Sometimes they do a little dance by kicking their feet to disturb their prey. This makes them easier to catch.

View of Norway in summer

This is Norway. Greenshanks like to spend the summer here. It is one of their favourite places because:

  • they eat mainly insects in summer and there are thousands of insects breeding in all the little pools
  • there are good places to build nests on slightly higher ground near water. The nest is a cup of grasses hidden among rocks and they lay about 4 eggs.
  • insect food is more nutritious than fish for the babies
  • in summer Norway has long days because it is in the Arctic so the birds can feed all day and most of the night as well.
view of Norway in winter

Norway is not such a nice place in winter – if you are a greenshank. This is because:

  • it is cold and dark most of the time and covered with ice and snow
  • the water is frozen and the insects have all died
  • if they stayed here they would die of starvation and cold

So they must leave. They must find food so they migrate to somewhere where they can find it.


They fly south along the East Atlantic Flyway. This is like a bird motorway. It goes from Norway, along the coasts of Denmark, Holland, England, France, Spain and then down the coast of Africa. They spend the winter where the weather is warmer and there is food. In spring they return to their breeding grounds in Norway.

They do not stay in Africa to breed because there are no insects to feed their babies, no suitable nest sites and it is too hot in summer.


They cannot fly such a long way in one go. They need places to stop, rest and feed along the way. They look for wetlands where they can find the right kind of food. These are often where rivers meet the sea.

There are huge wetlands along the coast of Denmark and Holland with others along the coasts of England, France and Spain. Chichester Harbour is a very important wetland that they use before they cross the Channel. These wetlands are like motorway service stations.


So why do small birds go to all the trouble of travelling all the way from Norway to Africa and back again?

It is worth them migrating

  • to help them survive
  • to find the right food of fish and insects
  • to find a good place to raise a family that is safe from disturbance and predators and has plenty of food and shelter

But there are problems with travelling so far. They can’t pack a suitcase with food, drink and clothes and book a flight!

Peregrine Falcon

They face many problems.

  • Their food stops may be too far apart.
  • Food may not be available because of over-fishing or pollution from rubbish, agricultural run-off, sewage or oil.
  • The wetlands may have disappeared because the land has been reclaimed for building or agriculture.
  • They may be shot by hunters for food or sport.
  • They may be attacked by predators such as foxes or birds of prey.
  • The weather may cause strong winds, late snow, sandstorms or dry up pools.
  • They may be disturbed by walkers, sailors or bird watchers.


How do we know about Greenshank migration?

To find out more about exactly where individual birds go, Chichester Harbour Conservancy and Farlington Ringing Group have been running a research project. Specially trained people have caught greenshanks at Chichester Harbour and put coloured rings on their legs. Each bird has a different pattern. This does not hurt the birds.


Meet YROY in Chichester Harbour. He is a greenshank and he is called YROY because of the pattern of coloured rings on his legs. He has yellow and red rings on his left leg and orange and yellow rings on his right leg and the initials spell YROY. If he is seen anywhere in the world, they know it is him.


FranceYROY in France

This is YROY in France. He was seen here many times between October 2004 and March 2005, so he spends the winter here.


In May 2005 someone spotted him in Norway at a place called Vellamelen. This is the first individual greenshank to be seen in both its wintering grounds and its breeding grounds.

YROY in Norway

YROY was seen back in France in November 2005 so he successfully completed his migration. He returned again to winter in France in 2005/2006.

If you would like to find out more about greenshank migration and what the project has found out, click here.

Chief ShankChief Shank's friends

Here is Chief Shank again with his friends - Speedy Shank, Cool Shank, Crazy Shank and Smart Shank. If you would like to join them to find out what happens to them on their migration, click here to play the Migration Game. http://www.conservancy.co.uk/learn/ToDo/greenshank.htm