Adults have grey-brown upperparts, a bright chestnut belly and a white chest band, throat and eye stripe.
The dotterel turns the tables on traditional gender roles, as the bright-coloured females lead courtship before leaving the smaller, drabber males to incubate the eggs and raise the young. For this reason the species is counted by the number of breeding males rather than pairs.
Small flocks of dotterel known as "trips" may be seen on low hilltops as the birds migrate north in the spring.
Britain is at the south-western extent of the dotterels' range, with the bulk of the population occupying breeding grounds eastwards from Scandinavia to Siberia.