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Red-necked Phalarope Life History



Red-necked Phalaropes breed around lakes, bogs, and marshes in the Arctic tundra or tundra-forest boundary. They spend the winter out at sea in places where currents or upwelling bring plankton to the surface. Small numbers may spend winters on inland ponds.

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Aquatic invertebrates

They eat mainly aquatic invertebrates such as zooplankton, and some flying insects. Their classic foraging behavior is to sit on the surface of the water and spin rapidly in circles, causing food to be brought to the surface.

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Nest Placement


Females and males scout out nest sites on mossy hummocks lined with sedges and grasses, typically close to standing water.

Nest Description

Males add bits of vegetation to the nest usually during the few days between laying of the first and third eggs.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.0-1.3 in (2.6-3.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.8-0.9 in (2-2.3 cm)
Incubation Period:17-29 days
Egg Description:

Olive to green speckled with black, brown, and pale purple.

Condition at Hatching:

Alert and covered with highly camouflaged down; chicks leave the nest within about a day of hatching.

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Red-necked Phalaropes have reversed sex roles. Females are larger and more colorful than males. They compete to win mates, and the males do all the incubation and care for the young. They often form one-on-one pairs, but females sometimes move on to a new male immediately after mating and laying eggs with another male.

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Low Concern

Red-necked Phalaropes breed in the Arctic and winter at sea, so population trends are hard to measure. They are numerous and widespread with a global breeding population estimated at 4.1 million, according to Partners in Flight. They score an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means they are not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and are a species of low conservation concern. While global trends are unknown, steep declines have been reported at migration sites in eastern Canada, linked to declines in zooplankton associated with cool waters.

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Brown, S., C. Duncan, J. Chardine, M. Howe, and the Red-necked Phalarope Working Group. (2010). Red-necked Phalarope research, monitoring, and conservation plan for the northeastern U.S. and maritimes Canada. Version 1.1. Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Mullarney, K., L. Svensson, D. Zetterström, and P. Grant (1999). Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publications Ltd., London, United Kingdom.

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

Rubega, M. A., D. Schamel, and D. M. Tracy. 2000. Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus). In The Birds of North America, No. 538 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

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

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Learn more at Birds of the World