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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Usually migrates in small flocks. In fall, a few may linger in the north quite late in the season.
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.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
A series of musical whistled notes: whew-whew-whew.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
CONSERVATION. Overall population probably stable.
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.