Non-breeding adult. Photo: Melissa James/Audubon Photography Awards

Greater Yellowlegs

Tringa melanoleuca

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.
Conservation status CONSERVATION. Overall population probably stable.
Family Sandpipers
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
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.


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.

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of musical whistled notes: whew-whew-whew.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Greater Yellowlegs

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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.

Explore Similar Birds