Southern dunlin conservation

The southern dunlin is a small wading bird that lives in coastal meadows and wetlands along the coast. As these habitats have disappeared as a result of ditching and farming, the southern dunlin has declined from at least 1,000 breeding pairs in the 1930s to only 65 today. The southern dunlin was formerly common in southern Sweden, but is now found only on Öland and southwestern Scania. In Scania, the species is estimated to have declined by 99% in less than 100 years. In addition to loss of habitat, predation by crow, badger, mink and fox is a very big threat to the southern dunlin. The species is currently considered Critically Endangered (CR) on the Swedish Red List.

Inventory at work at the Schäferi meadows 2022.

What we do at Nordens Ark

Together with Birdlife Sweden, Nordens Ark has started a conservation project to try to reverse the downward trend and save the southern dunlin from extinction. The project will work on several fronts to increase the population of southern dunlin in Sweden. Among other things, the wild population will be strengthened through the release of individuals from breeding facilities. Initially, the project will work with a conservation technique called "headstarting", a method that has been shown to be effective in stopping ongoing population declines in other threatened wading birds. In headstarting, eggs are collected from the nests of wild birds, after which the chicks are hatched and raised under optimal conditions in enclosures. When the chicks have grown and are close to flying, they are released on suitable premises. This significantly increases the survival of the young, as a larger and almost ready-to-fly young can protect itself significantly better against predators. All released individuals will be ringed to enable us to follow the individuals over time and see how many return to the breeding premises.

Birdlife Sverige and Nordens Ark receives a check from Postcode lottery in the spring of 2022.

The wild populations will also be monitored through annual inventories of nests and individuals. The southern dunlin is a migratory bird and returns to Sweden in early spring. During this period, the various locations where the species exists or has existed will be surveyed to record the number of individuals. At selected sites, nests will be carefully monitored throughout the breeding season and the parents will be ringed during the incubation period. At the same time, we'll count the number of eggs in the nest and note how many chicks hatch and how many survive until they are ready to fly.

In order to bring back a viable population of southern dunlin, we need to take action in the field. These actions need to be adapted to local conditions, as each place has different conditions and has changed in different ways. Among other things, this will involve measures such as restoring shallow bodies of water by plugging ditches, achieving favorable grazing on coastal meadows and working with predation suppression measures.

We also want to increase knowledge about the species, other waders, their habitat and biological diversity. We will do this through information campaigns aimed at different target groups. The project will also arrange various events and activities to spread information and create events about the southern dunlin. We will also create an information site at Nordens Ark where visitors can follow the work to preserve this well-provided and beautiful bird.

The southern dunlin is a flagship species for other shore meadow species. If we save it, other species associated with coastal meadows will also benefit, and thus also biodiversity.

News from the project - March 2024

In 2023, we were able to strengthen the wild population by releasing 14 chicks. Like other waders, they are expected to return to their breeding site in southern Öland after their second year, in the spring of 2025.

In 2023, a larger survey of waders was carried out on Öland's and Skåne's coastal meadows.
On Öland, 45 locations were selected where southern dunlins have nested in 2008 or later. The goal was to compare how the population has changed since 2008 and to get a current picture that can be followed up in a number of years. Only 34 pairs/displaying males of southern dunlin could be found in 12 of the 45 inventoried sites, which shows a continued decline of the species in Sweden.

The project has also co-financed a restoration project of coastal meadows in southern Öland, initiated by the County Board of Kalmar County. The area of almost 100 hectares was previously an important and rich nesting site for, among other things, southern dulnin, curlew and black-tailed godwit with open pastures and wetlands.

More news and information about the project can be found here:


Project website


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