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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope

Sep 20, 2017 08:20PM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope!

The column will provide a picture of a birds photographed locally in the Tijuana Estuary or on IB's beaches and we will have background on the bird.

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, a small wader in the Sandpiper family. They are common in migration off both coasts, and are common migrants through the interior of the west, being locally abundant in the fall, but quite rare inland in the east where most records are in the fall. Western birds winter at sea, mainly south of the Equator off western South America; wintering areas of east coast migrants is not well known.

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 their young. Red-necked Phalaropes nest around arctic tundra pools and winter at sea. During migration they pause on shallow ponds in the west, where they spin in circles, picking at the water's surface. However, most apparently migrate offshore, especially in the east. Despite their small size and delicate shape, they seem perfectly at home on the open ocean.

Populations are difficult to monitor. There is some evidence of recent declines in some areas, such as off the coast of New England. Most alarming is the disappearance of former concentrations in the western Bay of Fundy. Fall gatherings there had been estimated as high as 3 million in the 1970s, but numbers began to drop sharply in the 1980s and the concentrations have largely disappeared.

Habitat is in oceans, bays, lakes, ponds; and in tundra in summer. At sea, they often concentrate over upwellings or tide rips, and sometimes around the edges of kelp beds. Inland, they stop on ponds or lakes with abundant small creatures to eat; often favoring sewage ponds, where insects are numerous. They breed in tundra regions, mainly on the marshy edges of ponds and lakes.

Unlike any other sandpipers, phalaropes forage mostly while swimming, by picking items from water's surface or just below it. They often spin in circles on shallow water, probably to stir things up and bring food closer to the surface. In general, they feed very rapidly on very small prey, insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. Diet varies with the season and habitat. On breeding grounds and on fresh waters in migration, they eat mostly insects, including adults and larvae of flies, beetles, and caddisflies. During stopovers on alkaline lakes, they may eat many brine shrimp. Winter diet on the ocean is poorly known, but probably includes small crustaceans and mollusks.

Females seek mates making short flights, with whirring of wings and calling. In courtship, females swim around males, trying to make him follow her. Males usually reluctant, show interest only gradually. In some cases, after leaving a male to care for eggs and young, females find another mate and lay another clutch of eggs. Nest sites are on the ground, usually in low vegetation near water. Nests are a shallow scrape lined with grass, and leaves. Both sexes make scrapes, the females choose one, and probably both sexes then help build their nests.

 After mating, females lay 4, sometimes 3, olive to buff, blotched with dark brown eggs. Rarely, 2 or 3 females will lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by males only in 17-21 days. Downy young leave their nests within a day after hatching, and go to the shore of a pond. Males tend young and broods them while they are small, but young feed themselves. Males depart after about 2 weeks, and young are able to fly at about 3 weeks.

I was lucky enough to spot two Juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes feeding in Pond 2 in the Tijuana Estuary recently. This is the first time I have seen them in the Estuary. You never know what you will see there while enjoying a walk or bike ride on the many trails there. Until next week, happy birding!


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or Bird of the Week

Bryan Brillhart


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