Bird GuideSandpipersGreater Yellowlegs

At a Glance

At ponds and tidal creeks, this trim and elegant wader draws attention to itself by bobbing its head and calling loudly when an observer approaches. In migration, the Greater Yellowlegs is common from coast to coast. Sometimes it may annoy the birder by spooking the other shorebirds with its alarm calls; usually it is a pleasure to watch as it feeds actively in the shallows, running about on trademark yellow legs.
Category
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Region
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Behavior
Direct Flight, Running
Population
140.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Usually migrates in small flocks. In fall, a few may linger in the north quite late in the season.

Description

14" (36 cm). Very much like Lesser Yellowlegs; size difference obvious only when together. Greater's bill is longer, thicker toward the base, may look slightly upturned. In breeding plumage, Greater Yellowlegs has heavier markings on belly. Voice is best clue.
Size
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Color
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A series of musical whistled notes: whew-whew-whew.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle

Habitat

Open marshes, mudflats, streams, ponds; in summer, wooded muskeg, spruce bogs. During migration and winter, found in wide variety of settings, including tidal flats, estuaries, open beaches, salt and fresh marshes, shores of lakes and ponds, riverbanks. Breeds in boggy and marshes places within northern coniferous forest.

Behavior

Eggs

Usually 4. Buff, blotched with gray and dark brown. Incubation is probably by both parents, about 23 days. Young: Downy young are able to leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, and protest noisily with attacks or distraction displays if predators or humans come anywhere near. Young find all their own food. Age at first flight probably about 18-20 days.

Young

Downy young are able to leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, and protest noisily with attacks or distraction displays if predators or humans come anywhere near. Young find all their own food. Age at first flight probably about 18-20 days.

Feeding Behavior

Typically forages in shallow water. Often feeds very actively, sometimes running after minnows. May forage by walking forward while swinging its head back and forth with the tip of the bill in the water.

Diet

Includes insects and small fish. In breeding season, probably feeds mostly on insects and their larvae. In migration and winter, often feeds on small fishes such as killifish, minnows. Diet also includes crustaceans, snails, tadpoles, marine worms, sometimes berries.

Nesting

On breeding grounds, male performs display flight, alternately rising and falling with flutters and glides as it gives a loud, ringing, whistled song. Nest site is on ground, usually close to water, often placed close to log or other object. Nest is well concealed in hummock of moss, a shallow depression lined sparsely with grass or leaves.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

CONSERVATION. Overall population probably stable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Greater Yellowlegs. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Greater Yellowlegs

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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