Vol 2 #2 – Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography

Wilson’s Phalarope for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography


imgpERHAPS the most interesting, as it is certainly the most uncommon, characteristic of this species of birds is that the male relieves his mate from all domestic duties except the laying of the eggs. He usually chooses a thin tuft of grass on a level spot, but often in an open place concealed by only a few straggling blades. He scratches a shallow depression in the soft earth, lines it with a thin layer of fragments of old grass blades, upon which the eggs, three or four, are laid about the last of May or first of June. Owing to the low situation in which the nest is placed, the first set of eggs are often destroyed by a heavy fall of rain causing the water to rise so as to submerge the nest. The instinct of self preservation in these birds, as in many others, seems lacking in this respect. A second set, numbering two or three, is often deposited in a depression scratched in the ground, as at first, but with no sign of any lining.

Wilson’s Phalarope is exclusively an American bird, more common in the interior than along the sea coast. The older ornithologists knew little of it. It is now known to breed in northern Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Utah, and Oregon. It is recorded as a summer resident in northern Indiana and in western Kansas. Mr. E. W. Nelson states that it is the most common species in northern Illinois, frequenting grassy marshes and low prairies, and is not exceeded in numbers even by the ever-present Spotted Sandpiper. While it was one of our most common birds in the Calumet region it is now becoming scarce.

The adult female of this beautiful species is by far the handsomest of the small waders. The breeding plumage is much brighter and richer than that of the male, another peculiar characteristic, and the male alone possesses the naked abdomen. The female always remains near the nest while he is sitting, and shows great solicitude upon the approach of an intruder. The adults assume the winter plumage during July.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) by J Fenton

Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) by J Fenton

Lee’s Addition:

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. (Genesis 2:19-20 NKJV)

What another fantastically created bird. The Phalaropes belong to the Scolopacidae – Sandpipers, Snipes family. There are 96 species in the family, with 3 of those in the Phalaropus genus; the Wilson’s, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes. Phalarope are sometimes called “wadepipers.” They are especially notable for two things: their unusual nesting behavior (see above), and their unique feeding technique. When feeding, a phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the center of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein.

The Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor, is a small wader. This bird, the largest of the phalaropes, breeds in the prairies of North America in western Canada and the western United States. It is migratory, wintering around the central Andes in South America. They are passage migrants through Central America around March/April and again during September/October. The species is a rare vagrant to western Europe.

This species is often very tame and approachable. Its common name commemorates the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson. Sometimes, it is placed in a monotypic genus Steganopus.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) by Daves BirdingPix

Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) by Daves BirdingPix

Wilson’s Phalarope is slightly larger than the Red Phalarope at about 9.1 in (23 cm) in length. As are all 3 phalaropes, it is a unique, dainty shorebird with lobed toes and a straight fine black bill. The breeding female is predominantly gray and brown above, with white underparts, a reddish neck and reddish flank patches. The breeding male is a duller version of the female, with a brown back, and the reddish patches reduced or absent. In a study of breeding phalaropes in Saskatchewan Providence in Canada, females were found to average around 10% larger in standard measurements and to weigh around 30% more than the males. Females weighed from 68 to 79 g (2.4 to 2.8 oz), whereas the males average 1.83 oz (51.8 g).

Young birds are grey and brown above, with whitish underparts and a dark patch through the eye. In winter, the plumage is essentially grey above and white below, but the dark eyepatch is always present.


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Evening Grosbeak

The Previous Article – The Skylark

ABC’s Of The Gospel



Scolopacidae – Sandpipers, Snipes Family

Wilson’s Phalarope Wikipedia

Phalarope – Wikipedia


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Red-necked Phalarope ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 01-13-11

I had an inquiry from my sister, Colette, in Ireland recently about Red-necked Phalarope (some appeared in breeding plumage at a potential breeding site there last northern summer), so it was floating around in my mind yesterday when I considered what to share with you this week. It’s a dainty and interesting wader, like its cousin the Red/Grey Phalarope which featured as bird of the week after my trip to Alaska in 2008.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

The three species of Phalarope (Wilson’s is the third) breed in high latitudes in the northern hemisphere so Ireland is at the southern edge of its potential range (there was a colony of up to 50 pairs there in the early part of the 20th century). Despite their delicate appearance and toy-like behaviour when bobbing around picking up plankton from the surface of water, these are tough little birds and the Red-necked, 19cm/7.75in in length with a wing-span of 38cm/15in is the smallest of the three. Their favourite nesting sites are on small ponds in the northern tundra and outside the breeding season they are normally pelagic wandering far and wide over the oceans of the world in search of food.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Like the Red/Grey (summer/winter) Phalarope, the Red-necked shows a reversal in sex roles, with the brighter females courting the males, having multiple partners and leaving the males to incubate the eggs and look after the young. There is though to be a selective advantage in the females being able to lay as many eggs as possible in the brief breeding season of high latitudes. The first photo shows the brighter female, the second the smaller and more subdued – in more ways than one – male.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) by Ian

In non-breeding plumage all three species have mainly grey and white plumage. The Red-necked has a black, downturned eye-patch – see the third photos – and, visible in flight, wing bars (lacking in Wilson’s) and dark underwing marking. All three species turn up rarely in Australia in the non-breeding season, particular following storms when drive them into bays for shelter or inland. The Red-necked is the least rare of the three and the fourth photo shows one that turned up on the Bellarine Peninsula south-west of Geelong, Victoria in 2002.

On the website, I’ve started altering the sequence of the next and previous family pointers of the Australian family thumbnail pages so that they follow the sequence of Christidis and Boles (2008) – rather than that of Birdlife International – and only include families that occur in Australia. The intention is to create a ‘green’ Australian zone for visitors who are interested only in Australia birds. A green background already distinguishes the Australian thumbnails and I’m adding background colours to pointer arrows and alphbetical index pages to highlight the distinction. You might like to visit the news section of the home page http://www.birdway.com.au/#news and the Australian index http://www.birdway.com.au/australianbirds.htm to see the difference and to find links to examples.
So far I’ve changed the families from Cassowaries http://www.birdway.com.au/casuariidae/index_aus.htm (the first) as far as Plovers and Lapwings http://www.birdway.com.au/charadriidae/index_aus.htm and will progressively work through the rest. That will be delayed for a week as I’m now in northern NSW en route to Armidale, flooded roads permitting, for a recorder course. Fortunately, given the floods, I had already shelved plans to drive down and flew to the Gold Coast yesterday.
Other website additions include a few more snakes and a couple of photos of Greater Frigatebirds .
Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

Ian has introduced another neat bird. As Ian mentioned, there are three Phalaropes and all of them are here in the United States, though I have not had the privilege of seeing them.

“A phalarope is any of three living species of slender-necked shorebirds in the genus Phalaropus of the bird family Scolopacidae. They are close relatives of the shanks and tattlers, the Actitis and Terek Sandpipers, and also of the turnstones and calidrids. They are especially notable for two things: their unusual nesting behavior, and their unique feeding technique.” (These are in the Charadriiformes Order)

Two species, the Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius, called Grey Phalarope in Europe) and Red-necked Phalarope (P. lobatus) breed around the Arctic Circle and winter on tropical oceans. Wilson’s Phalarope (P. tricolor) breeds in western North America and migrates to South America. All are 6–10 in (15–25 cm) in length, with lobed toes and a straight, slender bill. Predominantly grey and white in winter, their plumage develops reddish markings in summer.”

“Red and Red-necked Phalaropes are unusual amongst shorebirds in that they are considered pelagic, that is, they spend a great deal of their lives outside the breeding season well out to sea. Phalaropes are unusually halophilic (salt-loving) and feed in great numbers in saline lakes such as Mono Lake in California and the Great Salt Lake of Utah. (from Wikipedia)

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Matthew 5:13 NKJV)
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another. (Mark 9:50 NKJV)