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Wilson’s Phalarope

Phalaropus tricolor

Phalaropes are well known for reversing the gender roles most of us come to expect in the bird world. 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, …). This is not an uncommon practice among shorebirds. Other species, such as the Spotted Sandpiper employ this reproductive strategy as well.

The Wilson’s Phalarope nests the furthest south of any other phalarope species. The high latitude limit for these bird’s nesting is northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territory of Canada.  Their breeding range includes the inter-mountain USA states, the Canadian prairie provinces, parts of the Great Lakes region, and the southeastern corner of Canada’s Atlantic coast. Winters are spent 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 las Palmas.

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