Living Bird Magazine
Wilson's PhalaropePhalaropus tricolor
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
Every year in late summer, migrating Wilson's Phalaropes put on an amazing show as enormous flocks amass on salty lakes of the West. There they spin round and round in the nutrient-rich waters, creating whirlpools that stir up invertebrates that will fuel their migration to South America. Females are rich peachy and gray, and are more colorful than the males. Females court and defend male mates—several per season—while males do most of the work of raising the young.More ID Info
Find This Bird
To find Wilson’s Phalaropes on their breeding grounds, visit small marshes and shallow wetlands and look out for these small, fairly long-legged birds. At this time of year they may be behaving like “normal” shorebirds, walking on land or in shallow water as they tend their ground nests. During migration, look for them in sometimes enormous numbers at places like Mono Lake, the Salton Sea, or the Great Salt Lake, as well as sewage ponds and smaller wetlands. Here they’ll be acting very unlike a shorebird—swimming in deeper water, where their small size, angular shape, needle-like bills, and habit of spinning in circles should help you pick them out.
- Falaropo Tricolor (Spanish)
- Phalarope de Wilson (French)
- Cool Facts
- Wilson's Phalaropes are one of only two species of shorebirds that molt at resting sites on the migration pathway, rather than on the breeding grounds before leaving or on the wintering grounds.
- While stopping over to molt on salty lakes in the West, Wilson's Phalaropes usually eat so much that they double their body weight. Sometimes they get so fat that they cannot even fly, allowing researchers to catch them by hand.
- Wilson's Phalaropes almost always lay a clutch of exactly four eggs.
- Unlike most birds where the female has the predominant role in caring for young, female phalaropes desert their mates once they’ve laid eggs. While the male raises the young by himself, the female looks for other males to mate with. This unusual mating system is called polyandry, and it’s reflected in the way the two sexes look, with the females more brightly colored than the males.