Wilson’s Phalarope

Phalaropus tricolor
Range Map

We know reversing the gender roles most of us come to expect in the bird world is not uncommon among shorebirds, but phalaropes are perhaps the masters of this reproductive strategy. They employ a lifestyle practice known as polyandry. The females are larger, more brightly colored, and take multiple mates in a season. After depositing her eggs in the nest site, the male takes on all the parenting duties, while she leaves to search for another mate (and another, and another, …). Other species, such as the Spotted Sandpiper, employ this reproductive strategy as well.

The Wilson’s Phalarope nests further south than any other phalarope species. The high latitude nesting limit for these birds is northern Alberta and in the southern Northwest Territory of Canada. Their breeding range includes the intermountain USA states, the Canadian prairie provinces, parts of the Great Lakes region, and the southeastern corner of Canada’s Atlantic coast. They spend winters as far south as saline lakes in the Andes and southern South America, south of Brazil.

I’ve met these birds on their breeding grounds at Crowley Lake in the Upper Owens River Valley in California, and had some satisfyingly close encounters at Malheur NWR in eastern Oregon. Prior to these meetings, my only other contacts were in South San Diego Bay with birds headed south for the winter. Since then I’ve enjoyed their intimate company at Mono Lake in California. In Texas, I met them in the Lower Rio Grande Valley at Resaca de la Palma.

Science regards the Wilson’s Phalarope as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).


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