Large numbers of Red Phalaropes can be seen during fall migration off both coasts in August, September, and October. Though normally seen well offshore, severe storms may drive them to shore or even inland.
Red PhalaropePhalaropus fulicaria
Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. The Red Phalarope nests in the high Arctic and winters in flocks on southern oceans. It is rarely seen inland in most parts of North America.
Field MarksThe seagoing habits (swimming buoyantly like a tiny gull) distinguish this as a phalarope; in breeding plumage, the deep reddish underparts and white face and yellow bill designate it as this species. Male duller than female. In fall and winter, both sexes are gray above, white below; in flight suggests a Sanderling, but with a dark patch through the eye.
Size8-9" (20-23 cm)
Similar SpeciesFall Red-necked Phalarope is darker, with a strongly striped back, blacker crown. Its wing stripe contrasts more; its bill is more needlelike. Thicker bill than fall Red Phalarope may be yellowish at base (usually not). Immature has a black bill.
VoiceSimilar to Red-necked Phalarope's whit or prip.
RangeArctic; circumpolar. Winter range at sea poorly known; from southern United States to Southern Hemisphere.
MigrationMigrates mostly offshore; rarely seen inland south of breeding grounds. A few winter off North American coast, but most apparently are well south of Equator in winter. Migrates later in fall than Red-necked Phalarope.
HabitatOcean; tundra in summer. For most of year found only out at sea, often very far from land. Favors areas with upwellings or rip currents, or where warm and cold currents converge; may regularly associate with whales. In summer on low-lying wet tundra near coast in high Arctic.
FeedingDiet: Includes insects, mollusks, crustaceans. On tundra, eats many insects, especially aquatic ones; also small mollusks, crustaceans, worms, bits of plant material, rarely small fish. Diet in winter poorly known.
Behavior: Forages while swimming by picking items from water's surface or by tipping forward to reach under surface. At sea, may land on mats of floating seaweed, and may pick parasites from backs of whales. Often spins in circles on shallow water. On breeding grounds, also forages while walking or wading, and flutters up to catch insects in the air.
NestingIn courtship, female may pursue male on water, head hunched down between her shoulders. After leaving male to care for eggs, female may find a second mate and lay second clutch of eggs.
Nest: Site is on ground among low vegetation, usually near water. Nest is a shallow scrape lined with grass, lichens, moss.
Eggs: 4, sometimes 2-3. Olive to buff, blotched with black or dark brown. Sometimes 2 females lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by male only, 18-20 days.
Young: Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching; male leads them to edge of nearby pond. Young are tended by male (rarely joined by female) but mostly feed themselves. Male may remain with young until they can fly, or may abandon them after just a few days; abandoned young can care for themselves. Age at first flight about 16-18 days.
ConservationNumbers apparently stable.