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Lesser Yellowlegs Life History



During migration and throughout the winter, Lesser Yellowlegs use a wide variety of fresh and brackish wetlands, including mudflats, marshes, lake and pond edges, wet meadows, sewage ponds, and flooded agricultural fields such as rice paddies. They tend to be found in vegetated wetlands rather than in bare habitats, contributing to their "marshpiper" nickname. On their breeding range, Lesser Yellowlegs use open or semiopen woodlands and wet meadows interspersed with marshes, bogs, and ponds. They also nest in altered habitats such as gas line rights-of-way and mine clearings. Once the eggs hatch, the parents take fledglings to nearby wetlands and shallow, vegetation-filled ponds surrounded by trees or sedges.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Eats primarily invertebrates gleaned from water or land, especially snails and flies, beetles, dragonflies of all life stages. Small fish and seeds are occasionally taken. Very active when foraging, moving quickly with a high-stepping gait, neck outstretched, to pick at prey with quick jabs of the bill. Less often, probes into mud or sweeps the bill back and forth through water. Sometimes forages at night.

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Nest Placement


The Lesser Yellowlegs’ well-hidden nest is placed on the ground, typically within 200 meters of a water source and next to fallen branches, logs, or underneath low shrubs.

Nest Description

A depression in the ground or moss, often lined with dry grass, leaves, moss, or twigs gathered from the immediate area around the nest. Nests are about 4 inches across and 1.4 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.5-1.9 in (3.9-4.7 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.2 in (2.7-3.1 cm)
Incubation Period:22-23 days
Egg Description:Gray with brown markings.
Condition at Hatching:Downy and able to walk. Leave nest in a few hours after hatching and feed themselves.
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Lesser Yellowlegs walk in a deliberate, high-stepping manner, occasionally darting forward in pursuit of prey. They often travel in loose flocks of half a dozen or more, and sometimes numbering into the thousands at migratory stopover sites. They are fairly tolerant of other shorebird species during migration and in the winter, but birds on breeding territories are aggressive defenders of the nest site, flying at intruders and persistently attempting to chase them from the area. Courting males perform a simple flight display consisting of undulating flights over communal foraging areas, often alongside other males. At the flight’s peak the birds glide with tail spread and neck craned upwards.

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Partners in Flight estimates the Lesser Yellowlegs global breeding population at 660,000 individuals, gives the species a Continental Concern score of 13 out of 20, and includes it on the Yellow Watch List for species with declining populations. Lesser Yellowlegs were regularly hunted in great numbers in the early part of the 20th century, with some hunters taking hundreds of individuals in a season. Hunting in mainland North America ceased after the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. In parts of the Caribbean thousands of migrating shorebirds, including Lesser Yellowlegs, are still killed every year, particularly on the islands of Barbados, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. The current primary threat to Lesser Yellowlegs is the continued loss of wetland habitat in the wintering range, though detecting declines is difficult because the species uses many different types of wetland habitats rather than congregating at a few major staging or stopover sites.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Tibbitts, T. Lee and William Moskoff. (2014). Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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