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Female red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) in breeding plumage
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Phalaropus
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Tringa fulicaria
Linnaeus, 1758

Phalaropus fulicarius
Phalaropus lobatus
Phalaropus tricolor



A phalarope is any of three living species of slender-necked shorebirds in the genus Phalaropus of the bird family Scolopacidae.

Phalaropes are close relatives of the shanks and tattlers, the Actitis and Terek sandpipers, and also of the turnstones and calidrids.[1] They are especially notable for their unusual nesting behavior and their unique feeding technique.

Two species, the red or grey phalarope (P. fulicarius) and the red-necked phalarope (P. lobatus) breed around the Arctic Circle and winter on tropical oceans. Wilson's phalarope (P. tricolor) breeds in western North America and migrates to South America. All are 15–25 cm (6–10 in) in length, with lobed toes and a straight, slender bill. Predominantly grey and white in winter, their plumage develops reddish markings in summer.


The genus Phalaropus was introduced by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the red phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) as the type species.[2][3] The English and genus names come through French phalarope and scientific Latin Phalaropus from Ancient Greek phalaris, "coot", and pous, "foot". Coots and phalaropes both have lobed toes.[4][5]

The genus contains three species:[6]

A fossil species, P. elenorae, is known from the Middle Pliocene 4–3 million years ago (Mya). A coracoid fragment from the Late Oligocene (23 Mya) near Créchy, France, was also ascribed to a primitive phalarope;[7] it might belong to an early species of the present genus or a prehistoric relative. The divergence of phalaropes from their closest relatives can be dated to around that time, as evidenced by the fossil record (chiefly of the shanks) and supported by tentative DNA sequence data.[8][9] Of note, the last remains of the Turgai Sea disappeared around then, and given the distribution of their fossil species, this process probably played a major role in separating the lineages of the shank-phalarope clade.

Ecology and behavior[edit]

Red and red-necked phalaropes are unusual amongst shorebirds in that they are considered pelagic, that is, they spend a great deal of their lives outside the breeding season well out to sea. Phalaropes are unusually halophilic (salt-loving) and feed in great numbers in saline lakes such as Mono Lake in California and the Great Salt Lake of Utah.


When feeding, a phalarope often swims 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 then reaches into the center of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein. Phalaropes use the surface tension of water to capture food particles and get them to move up along their bills and into their mouths.[10]

Sexual dimorphism and reproduction[edit]

In the three phalarope species, sexual dimorphism and contributions to parenting are reversed from what is normally seen in birds. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue and fight over males, then defend them from other females until the male begins incubation of the clutch. Males perform all incubation and chick care, while the female attempts to find another male to mate with. If a male loses his eggs to predation, he often rejoins his original mate or a new female, which then lays another clutch. When the season is too late to start new nests, females begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Phalaropes are uncommon among birds and vertebrates in general in that they engage in polyandry, with one female taking multiple male mates, while males mate with only one female. Specifically, phalaropes engage in serial polyandry, wherein females pair with multiple males at different times in the breeding season.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ van Tuinen, Marcel; Waterhouse, David; Dyke, Gareth J. (2004). "Avian molecular systematics on the rebound: a fresh look at modern shorebird phylogenetic relationships". Journal of Avian Biology. 35 (3): 191–194. doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03362.x.
  2. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & leurs Variétés (in French and Latin). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 50, Vol. 6, p. 12.
  3. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 292.
  4. ^ "Phalarope". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 301. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Buttonquail, plovers, seedsnipe, sandpipers". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Archived from the original on 21 December 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  7. ^ Hugueney, Marguerite; Berthet, Didier; Bodergat, Anne-Marie; Escuillié, François; Mourer-Chauviré, Cécile; Wattinne, Aurélia (2003). "La limite Oligocène-Miocène en Limagne: changements fauniques chez les mammifères, oiseaux et ostracodes des différents niveaux de Billy-Créchy (Allier, France)" [The Oligocene-Miocene boundary in Limagne: faunal changes in the mammals, birds and ostracods from the different levels of Billy-Créchy (Allier, France)]. Geobios. 36 (6): 719–731. Bibcode:2003Geobi..36..719H. doi:10.1016/j.geobios.2003.01.002.
  8. ^ Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe Archived 2011-05-20 at the Wayback Machine. Ninox Press, Prague.
  9. ^ Paton, Tara A.; Baker, Allan J.; Groth, J.G.; Barrowclough, G.F. (2003). "RAG-1 sequences resolve phylogenetic relationships within charadriiform birds". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 29 (2): 268–78. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00098-8. PMID 13678682.
  10. ^ Rubega, M.A.; Obst, B.S. (1993). "Surface-tension feeding in Phalaropes: Discovery of a novel-feeding mechanism" (PDF). The Auk. 110 (2): 169–178.
  11. ^ Neuroscience, Bear, Connors, Paradiso; Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins

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