My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

The Wilson’s Phalarope is a small wader. This bird, the largest of the phalaropes, breeds in the prairies of North America in western Canada and the western United States. It is migratory, wintering in inland salt lakes near the Andes in Argentina. They are passage migrants through Central America around March/April and again during September/October.

This species is often very tame and approachable. Its common name commemorates the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson.

Wilson’s Phalarope is slightly larger than the Red Phalarope at about 23 cm (9.1 in) in length. As are all 3 phalaropes, it is a unique, dainty shorebird with lobed toes and a straight fine black bill. The breeding female is predominantly gray and brown above, with white underparts, a reddish neck and reddish flank patches. The breeding male is a duller version of the female, with a brown back, and the reddish patches reduced or absent. In a study of breeding phalaropes in Saskatchewan Province in Canada, females were found to average around 10% larger in standard measurements and to weigh around 30% more than the males. Females weighed from 68 to 79 g (2.4 to 2.8 oz), whereas males average 51.8 g (1.83 oz).

Young birds are grey and brown above, with whitish underparts and a dark patch through the eye. In winter, the plumage is essentially grey above and white below, but the dark eyepatch is always present. The average longevity in the wild is 10 years.

Wilson’s Phalaropes are unusually halophilic (salt-loving) and feed in great numbers when on migration on saline lakes such as Mono Lake in California, Lake Abert in Oregon, and the Great Salt Lake of Utah, often with Red-necked Phalaropes.

When feeding, a Wilson’s Phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the outskirts of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein.

The typical avian sex roles are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue males, compete for nesting territory, and will aggressively defend their nests and chosen mates. Once the females lay their eggs, they begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs. Three to four eggs are laid in a ground nest near water. The young feed themselves.

On to my photos:

Wilson's Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope in flight

Wilson’s Phalarope in flight

Wilson's Phalarope in flight

Wilson’s Phalarope in flight

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

This is number 149 in my photo life list, only 201 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. Your bird shots are utterly amazing!

    March 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    • Thank you, we all have to be good at something. 😉

      March 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm

  2. And I thought plant names were strange! You got some excellent shots of this one, especially that last one.

    March 11, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    • LOL, thank you!

      March 12, 2014 at 1:27 am