Red-necked PhalaropePhalaropus lobatus

adult male, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Geoff Malosh/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, molting to nonbreeding plumage
Barry Miller/VIREO
juvenile
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Red-necked Phalaropes nest around arctic tundra pools and winter at sea. During migration they pause on shallow ponds in the west, where they spin in circles, picking at the water's surface. However, most apparently migrate offshore, especially in the east. Despite their small size and delicate shape, they seem perfectly at home on the open ocean.

Habitat

Ocean, bays, lakes, ponds; tundra in summer. At sea, often concentrates over upwellings or tide rips, sometimes around edges of kelp beds. Inland, stops on ponds or lakes with abundant small creatures to eat; often favors sewage ponds, where insects are numerous. Breeds in tundra regions, mainly on marshy edges of ponds and lakes.

Feeding Diet

Insects, crustaceans, mollusks. Diet varies with season and habitat. On breeding grounds and on fresh waters in migration, eats mostly insects, including adults and larvae of flies, beetles, caddisflies. During stopovers on alkaline lakes, may eat many brine shrimp. Winter diet on ocean poorly known, probably includes small crustaceans and mollusks.

Feeding Behavior

Unlike any other sandpipers, phalaropes forage mostly while swimming, by picking items from water's surface or just below it. Often they spin in circles on shallow water, probably to stir things up and bring food closer to surface. In general, they feed very rapidly on very small prey.

Nesting

Female seeking mate makes short flights, with whirring of wings and calling. In courtship, female swims around male, tries to make him follow her; male usually reluctant, shows interest only gradually. In some cases, after leaving male to care for eggs and young, female finds another mate and lays another clutch of eggs. Nest site is on ground, usually in low vegetation near water. Nest is a shallow scrape lined with grass, leaves. Both sexes make scrapes, female chooses one, probably both sexes then help build nest. Eggs: 4, sometimes 3. Olive to buff, blotched with dark brown. Rarely 2 or 3 females will lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by male only, 17-21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching, go to shore of pond. Male tends young and broods them while they are small, but young feed themselves. Male departs after about 2 weeks, young are able to fly at about 3 weeks.

Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Olive to buff, blotched with dark brown. Rarely 2 or 3 females will lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by male only, 17-21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching, go to shore of pond. Male tends young and broods them while they are small, but young feed themselves. Male departs after about 2 weeks, young are able to fly at about 3 weeks.

Young

Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching, go to shore of pond. Male tends young and broods them while they are small, but young feed themselves. Male departs after about 2 weeks, young are able to fly at about 3 weeks.

Conservation

Population difficult to monitor. Some evidence of recent declines in some areas, such as off the coast of New England. Most alarming is the disappearance of former concentrations in the western Bay of Fundy. Fall gatherings there had been estimated as high as 3 million in the 1970s, but numbers began to drop sharply in the 1980s and the concentrations have largely disappeared.

Range

Common in migration off both coasts. A common migrant through the interior of the west (locally abundant in fall), but quite rare inland in the east (where most records are in fall). Western birds winter at sea, mainly south of Equator off western South America; wintering areas of east coast migrants not well known.

Listen

various interaction calls
kett calls & interaction sounds
kett calls & rattles

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Dunlin

The name, first applied long ago, simply means "little dun-colored (gray-brown) bird," a good description of the Dunlin in winter plumage. Spending the winter farther north than most of its relatives, this species is a familiar sight along the outer beaches during the cold months, as far north as New England and even southern Alaska. It is often in large flocks; in flight, these flocks may twist and bank in unison, in impressive aerial maneuvers. In breeding plumage, the Dunlin is so much more brightly colored as to seem like a different bird.

adult male, breeding

Curlew Sandpiper

A few Curlew Sandpipers turn up on the Atlantic Coast every year, rewarding birders who scan through the shorebird flocks. Elsewhere in North America, this Eurasian wader is only a rare visitor. It has nested at Point Barrow, Alaska, but in most years it is completely absent there. Most of those seen as migrants are adults in bright rusty-red breeding plumage; young birds and adults in winter plumage are more likely to be overlooked.

adult, breeding

Stilt Sandpiper

This wader is related to our very smallest sandpipers, but it is much more stretched-out in shape, designed for feeding in deeper water. In its drab winter plumage the Stilt Sandpiper is often overlooked, passed off as either a yellowlegs or a dowitcher, depending on what it is doing. Standing or walking, it looks rather like a yellowlegs; feeding, it acts like a dowitcher, probing the mud with a sewing-machine motion.

adult male, breeding

Red Phalarope

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. The Red Phalarope nests in the high Arctic, and winters in flocks on southern oceans. It is rarely seen inland in most parts of North America.

adult male, breeding

Wilson's Phalarope

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Wilson's Phalarope is an odd shorebird that swims and spins on prairie marshes. The other two species of phalaropes nest in the Arctic and winter at sea, but Wilson's is a bird of inland waters, nesting mostly on the northern Great Plains. Huge numbers may gather in fall on some salty lakes in the west, such as Mono Lake and Great Salt Lake, before migrating to South America.

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