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Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca


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Greater Yellowlegs adult
credit: Mike Baird/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Scolopacidae, Sandpipers view all from this family

Description ADULT In summer plumage, has beautifully patterned brown, black, and white feather markings on back and upper wings. Head, neck, and breast are streaked with brown, and underparts are mainly white, but with brown spots and barring on flanks. Bill is usually all-dark. In winter, looks more pale with gray-brown overall feathers on back, and upper wings marked with marginal white spots and scallops. Bill is pale at base. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but feathers on back have buffy marginal spots and breast has obvious dark streaking. Bill is paler at base.

Dimensions Length: 14" (36 cm)

Habitat Widespread and common breeding species in open, boggy, boreal forests. Long-distance migrant that winters from southern U.S. to South America. Usually found on coast (mudflats and lagoons) outside breeding season but, during migration, sometimes stages on lakes.

Observation Tips Distant birds can sometimes be identified with reasonable certainty because of their frenetic feeding habits. Close views allow separation from Lesser Yellowlegs: concentrate on relative body sizes, and bill size and shape.

Range Western Canada, California, Southeast, Northwest, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Florida, Plains, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Texas

Voice Utters a strident tiu-tiu-tiu in flight. Song is a yodeling twee-ooo.

Discussion Robust, elegant wading bird. Extremely long, orange-yellow legs and long, relatively thick and slightly upturned bill make identification easy. However, confusion is possible with Lesser Yellowlegs, which is smaller and an altogether more dainty bird. Feeds primarily in shallow water, catching aquatic invertebrates and small fish, but equally at home on open mudflats. Often chases wildly, like a thing possessed, after prey. Seen from above in flight, all birds have mainly dark upperparts, with contrasting white rump and pale-barred tail. Typically rather wary and nervous. Sexes are similar.