Nordmann's Greenshank Tringa guttifer Scientific name definitions

Philipp N. Maleko, Vladimir V. Pronkevich, and Konstantin S. Maslovsky
Version: 2.0 — Published February 19, 2021


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Nordmann’s Greenshank is a medium to large-sized Tringa sandpiper (length 285–340 mm, mass 125–170 g). Its build is heavy with a dark, robust, and slightly upturned bill and yellowish-green legs. In basic and formative (nonbreeding) plumages, it has clean white underparts that contrast with grayish upperparts. In definitive alternate (breeding) plumage, it has dark spotting on white underparts, which contrasts with white spotting on dark upperparts, and the head is speckled brown with an indistinct whitish supercilium. First alternate (first breeding) plumage is variably intermediate between formative and definitive alternate plumages. In juvenile plumage, the underparts and upperparts are plain gray, and the head has a more distinct supercilium. Sexes are alike in plumage.

Similar Species

The bill shape and foraging behavior of Nordmann's Greenshank may resemble a distant Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus), but Nordmann’s Greenshank is larger. The species has well-developed webbing between all three toes, a unique feature to Tringa sandpipers (1, 2).

Nordmann’s Greenshank is most similar to Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia); the two are similar in size, have a slightly upturned bill, mostly white underparts and tail, and a white wedge on the back (3). However, the former has a stockier and squatter silhouette, shorter legs (nearly two-thirds as long), a thicker and shorter neck, a larger and more bulbous head, and a deeper, fuller breast. Nordmann’s Greenshank also has a proportionately longer, deeper-based, and more robust bill with a blunt tip (4). In juvenile, formative, and definitive basic (nonbreeding) plumages, the upperparts of Nordmann’s Greenshank are paler and more uniform, and the species never shows any fine subterminal marks along the tertials and coverts as seen on Common Greenshank (DB). In definitive alternate (breeding) plumage, upperparts of Nordmann’s Greenshank are darker with more widespread white spotting and pale notching, and the anterior underparts are more heavily spotted and streaked black. A coarsely notched pattern along the tertials and coverts is diagnostic for Nordmann’s Greenshank. Underwings and axillaries are also clean white, rather than finely barred in Common Greenshank (5, 2). Common Greenshank legs tend to be olive-green, but Nordmann’s Greenshank legs are usually light ochre-yellow. The two species are also easily separated by call: the loud, piercing gwaak of Nordmann's Greenshank contrasts the melodious tyu-tyu-tyu of Common Greenshank (6). Bill color is not a reliable identifier as its complexion may vary by season and age (3).

In flight, both Nordmann’s and Common greenshanks show a white rump, white lower back, and white uppertail coverts which contrast the darker mantle and upper wings creating a white wedge on the lower back (7, 3). Nordmann’s Greenshank has clean white underwing coverts that contrast the slightly darker primaries and secondaries and form a diagnostic white armpit; noticeably different to the dark and lightly barred underwings of Common Greenshank (8, 9). In addition, the marginally broader-based wings of Nordmann’s Greenshank give it a stockier in-flight appearance. The most reliable distinguishing in-flight characteristic is the extent of toe projection beyond the tail: Nordmann’s Greenshank toes project just slightly, while Common Greenshank toes project significantly (10, 3, 11, 12).

Although frequently noted as having a two-toned bill, with a light grayish-green to yellow base on the lower mandible and sooty black elsewhere, this is not always the case and should not be relied upon as a diagnostic feature as Common Greenshank display a two-toned bill more frequently (DB). The bill coloration may also vary according to season and age. First-cycle birds tend to have a more prominent two-toned bill, while those of adults are plain dark and only slightly lighten towards the base (3, 11). When seen head on, the bill appears to have a circular cross-section (equal depth and width), differing from Common Greenshank, whose bill is narrow and laterally compressed in cross-section (10, 11).

Chicks are similar to Common Greenshank, Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), and Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) chicks but have two, instead of three, body stripes and lack any head spots. Compared to Common Redshank chicks, they have a lighter head, grayish-ochre (instead of yellowish-ochre) dorsal coloration; and white (not yellowish-ochre or gray) throat, belly, and sides of the head. Their legs are also yellowish gray instead of pinkish gray. When in hand, the easiest distinguishing characteristic is their well-developed toe webbing.

At a distance, Nordmann’s Greenshank may be confused with a Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) due to its yellow legs, slightly upturned bill, and overall heavy-fronted outline. The two also have very similar foraging behaviors, i.e., running and lunging (3). However, Terek Sandpiper is smaller, and the bill is more upturned. In definitive alternate plumage, the heavy breast spotting of Nordmann’s Greenshank is vaguely reminiscent of a Great Knot (Calidris tenurostris). However, the Great Knot is stockier with a fuller breast and slightly decurved bill (8, 3).


Nordmann's Greenshank has 10 full-length primaries (numbered distally, p1–p10), 15–17 secondaries (numbered proximally, s1–s12 or s1–s13, and including 4–5 tertials, numbered distally, t1–t5), and 12 rectrices (numbered bilaterally, r1–r6, on each side of the tail). Molt and plumage terminology follows Humphrey and Parkes (13), as modified by Howell et al. (14, 15). The species exhibits a Complex Alternate Strategy (cf. 14, 16), including complete prebasic molts, a partial-to-incomplete preformative molt and limited prealternate molts in both first and definitive cycles (5, 7, 10). An extra first and/or definitive presupplemental molt may also occur in spring (see below). In the following, descriptions of natal down are based on Kuroda (17) and Nechaev (18) and those of later plumages are based on Doer (11), Kennerley and Bakewell (10), and Kennerley and Bakewell (3), unless otherwise stated. See Prater et al. (5) and Marchant et al. (7) for age-related differences in plumage.

Natal Down

Downy chicks have a pale grayish white to buffy white forehead with an ochre tint, and a wide grayish white supercilium. The sides of the head are ash gray, and the chin, throat, breast, belly, cloacal down, and underwings are clean white. The mantle and flanks are grayish ochre and without streaking or spotting. The sacral down is light black with ochre tips. A black stripe on both sides of the head runs from the base of the bill through each eye, tapering to the back of the head, with a one mm break at the lores. Another grayish black stripe runs from the crown to the back of the head. These three stripes form a spot at the back of the head which disappears into the grayish ochre neck. On the lower back there is a black stripe bordered with faint light ochre, which splits as it runs anteriorly, creating a distinct “V” shape. Upperwing grayish ochre with two black or buffy bars in the front and small dark spots at the tips.

Juvenile (First Basic) Plumage

Fledged juveniles have a pale brown to medium ash-gray crown with light, almost indistinct streaking contrasting a broad, well-defined off-white supercilium that forms a distinct cap. The lores are lightly streaked dark gray, with the upper ear coverts streaked light gray. The chin, throat, lower ear coverts, and foreneck are white, and the nape and sides of the neck have diffuse pale gray-brown streaking near the crown that becomes darker at the base (7, 19).

Juvenile upperparts are pale to grayish brown with extensive buff streaks and spots. The mantle is dark brown and any striping it had as a chick is lost. On the wings the scapulars, lesser coverts, and tertials are dark brown and lightly notched buff, while the brownish median and greater coverts are narrowly fringed with pale whitish buff. This contrast produces a dark carpal patch at the bend of the wing. The secondaries and inner primaries are tipped pale, while the outer primaries are entirely dark and lack any contrasting fringes. Two or three primaries are usually visible beyond the longest tertial. Juvenile underparts are mostly white with the upper breast, anterior flanks, and neck lightly washed or smudged brown and finely streaked.

Formative Plumage

"First basic" or "Basic I" plumage of Humphrey and Parkes (13) and some later authors; see revision by Howell et al. (14); has also been referred to as "first non-breeding" or "first winter" plumage. The brown wash and streaking is lost during molt into formative plumage, and the underparts become entirely white (5). Following the molt in late winter, formative and definitive basic plumages are similar; formative plumage is distinguishable by retained brown-gray juvenile greater coverts and one or more tertials, contrasting with replaced formative wing coverts and tertials. Formative birds also tend to have more obviously demarcated bicolored bills (see Appearance: Bare Parts).

First Alternate Plumage

Has also been referred to as "first breeding" plumage. This plumage can vary in appearance between formative and definitive alternate plumages. Many show partial alternate feathering, as in definitive alternate plumage. Waders that oversummer on winter grounds for their first year tend to remain in more formative-like plumage, though this may be uncommon in Nordmann's Greenshank. Age-determination based on wing feathers, as described under formative plumage, continues to be reliable to distinguish first from definitive alternate plumages.

Definitive Basic Plumage

Has also been referred to as "adult nonbreeding" plumage. Crown, nape, lores, ear coverts, and hindneck pale, usually washed gray or off-white, with the crown, nape, and hindneck lightly, almost indistinguishably, streaked ash gray. The supercilium is off-white and more prominent in front of the eye, creating a distinct white forehead. The lores and sides of the neck may be finely speckled or smudged brown (20). The scapulars, upper wing coverts, and tertials are uniform pale ash gray with narrow white fringing and contrast the darker lesser coverts and primaries (7). The mantle is also pale ash-gray but lacks any subterminal fringing. The lower part of the axillaries, wing lining, and rump are white. All underparts, from the chin to the undertail coverts, are clean white and unmarked, although rarely some faint brown smudging on the sides of the breast is present. The tail is also pure white or pale gray, with outer rectrices sometimes lightly barred (20, 8). Distinguished from formative plumage by having uniformly basic wing feathers and a less obviously demarcated bill.

Definitive Alternate Plumage

Has also been referred to as "adult breeding" plumage. As the species undergoes a body molt into alternate plumage, new scapulars, wing coverts, and tertials appear among the plain basic feathers. In addition, small black spots begin to appear on the sides of the breast. Feathers around the base of the bill and chin become white or scarcely marked, but the head, ear coverts and neck become increasingly streaked with dark brown. The crown also becomes peppered with dark streaking, starting off fine near the rear crown but becoming heavy near the base of the neck. The supercilium becomes less obvious, and almost entirely lost, although present as a bulge in front of the eye, especially when compared to the dark lores. Late in the breeding season the supercilium is almost entirely lost in the heavy scaling and streaking. As the breeding season progresses the head becomes darker due to wear (19), and possibly an extra presupplemental molt as occurs in other waders (see 21).

The upperparts (mantle, scapulars, wing coverts, and tertials) become very dark (brown to sooty-black) and develop pale gray spotting with deeply indented white triangular notches, producing a spangled effect along the edge of the feathers (9, 22). The scapulars develop black subterminal spots. The greater coverts develop well-spaced black arrow-shaped spots along the white feather edges. The rump remains clean white. The most prominent feature is the intense, random black spotting, streaking, and chevroning on the otherwise white underparts, especially the lower neck, breast, flanks, and upper belly. The freshly molted breast and belly feathers wear rapidly during migration and courtship, especially since individuals are often exposed to saltwater (5, 7). Age-determination based on wing feathers, as described under definitive basic plumage, continues to be reliable to distinguish definitive from first alternate plumages.


Individuals undergo the complete prebasic molt of body, wing, and tail feathers into basic plumage during southward migration and the definitive prealternate molt of head and body feathers into alternate plumage before and during northward migration from their overwintering grounds (5, 10). In spring, full breeding plumage is acquired late in the season because of feather wear, a possible, extra presupplemental molt of head and body feathers, or a combination of the two. Fully molted alternate-plumaged birds are seldom seen south of Hong Kong. Similarly, body molt is largely completed prior to arrival at migratory stopover sites south of Hong Kong during southward migration (DB).

It is thought that replacement of primaries occurs within the species’ stopover or staging sites along the Yellow Sea, particularly in Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve and within the Jiangsu and Rudong mudflats, especially Tiaozini Wetland Park (23, 19, 24). In Jiangsu, the average duration of primary molt is ~65 d, and lasts from August into September or October (24). As northward migration is abrupt, there are no accurate estimates of secondary molt duration; however, Riegen et al. (23) found that in Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve no individuals displayed breeding plumage in late April and ~50% did in mid May.

The preformative molt occurs during the first winter and likely includes most to all body feathers, some proximal upperwing coverts, and one or more tertials, as in other waders and Tringa (7, 25). Details of molt extent, including the possible replacement of outer primaries in some birds, needs to be further investigated.

Bare Parts

Bill and Gape

Bill thick, blunt, and slightly upturned, with the upper and lower mandibles parallel up to the gonys (ridge along the tip of the lower mandible at the junction of the two joined halves) (10). Frequently noted as having a two-toned bill, with a light grayish-green to yellow base on the lower mandible and sooty black elsewhere, though this is not always the case. Bill coloration may vary according to season and age; subadults tend to have a more prominent two-toned bill, while adult bills are plain dark and only slightly lighter near the base (3, 11). When seen head on, the bill appears to have a circular cross-section (equal depth and width) (10, 11). The mouth and tongue are beige to light pink (26).

Iris and Facial Skin

Dark brown in all ages (Wells 1999, 19).

Tarsi and Toes

Legs tend to be light ochre or greenish yellow with a slight greenish tinge, becoming brighter from the tibia to the feet (20, 10, 11). Nails are gray black. The species has distinct, well-developed webbing between toes (length 5–6 mm), a feature unique to Tringa (27). Chicks have yellowish-gray posterior metatarsals and toes, while their anterior metatarsals, soles and toe-webbings are clean yellow (11).


Measurements come from Stejneger (28), Lonnberg (29), Buturlin (30), Kuroda (31), Yakhontov (32), Prater et al. (5), Nechaev (18), Gerasimov (33), Tirtaningtyas and Philippa (2), and VVP.

Linear Measurements

Possibly sexually dimorphic with females larger than males; however, the dearth of information available makes this difficult to confirm (VVP).

Adults. Mean measurements: bill length 53.03 mm ± 2.08 SD (range 48.5–57.4, n = 24); total head 88.01 mm ± 2.94 SD (range 84.3–91.9, n = 9); tarsus length 45.39 mm ± 1.32 SD (range 43–48.2, n = 24); wing length 174.55 mm ± 3.39 SD (range 168–180, n = 25); and tail length 70.56 mm ± 3.57 SD (range 66.3–76.9, n = 19).

Chicks. For chicks captured within 2–5 days of hatching (n = 8), mean measurements: bill length 15.39 mm ± 0.42 SD (range 12.8–16.0); total head 37.28 mm ± 3.23 SD (range 29.6–39.8); and diagonal tarsus 32.85 mm ± 1.02 SD (range 31.0–33.9). A 2-week-old chick had an exposed culmen of 32.1 mm, and a diagonal tarsus of 49.2 mm.


Adult mean mass is 147.03 g ± 12.32 SD, (range 128.8–170.0, n = 18). Downy chick mass is 17.13 g ± 1.84 SD (range 15.0–20.3, n = 8). One 2-week-old chick weighed 101.1 g.

Wing Area, Wing Aspect Ratio, Wing Loading

No information.

Recommended Citation

Maleko, P. N., V. V. Pronkevich, and K. S. Maslovsky (2021). Nordmann's Greenshank (Tringa guttifer), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, P. G. Rodewald, and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.norgre1.02