Red-Necked Phalarope

Phalaropus lobatus
Range Map

In the North American spring and summer, Red-Necked Phalaropes breed in Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territory and east across northern Canada, but these birds breed all over the globe in places such as southern Greenland and northern Europe and northern Asia. Winter finds these birds in southerly environs, often in tropical waters. In the Americas a few birds may winter as far north as southern California, but most fly further south. Near the Pacific coast, anywhere from the USA-Mexican border to Peru in South America might play host to these birds, but some will stay near the Atlantic coast in southern Argentina. Elsewhere around the globe, they will winter near the Atlantic coast of northern Africa, the Indian Ocean shores of the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan and western India, or in the western Pacific throughout Indonesia, China and Japan.

Phalaropes aren’t the only shorebirds who practice polyandry, but they are the most famous. Females usually arrive on the breeding grounds before the males and set up territories to attract as many mates as they can. After they lay their eggs, she leaves to find another mate (or two or three …). Then she abandons the breeding grounds, leaving the males to care for the next generation.

Like their cousins, the Red Phalarope and the Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-Necked Phalaropes sometimes forage in shallow water by swimming rapidly in a tight circular fashion. The motion creates a vortex in the water, drawing small invertebrate prey to the surface, where they can grab the tiny morsels with their needle-like bills.

Most of my meetings with Red-Necked Phalaropes have been with winter birds in Southern California and Cody Wyoming, but my favorite memories are from Canadian Yukon, and later, from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The birds I met in Canada were breeding at a small lake on the tundra along a lonely stretch of the Dempster Highway. In Utah I met them by the millions as they refueled on their migration south in August 2017. Seen in such large numbers, these birds create an impressive spectacle when they all rise in unison, murmuring over the water.

Science regards the Red-Necked Phalarope as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

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