Bird GuideSandpipersLesser Yellowlegs

At a Glance

At first glance, the two species of yellowlegs look identical except for size, as if they were put on earth only to confuse birdwatchers. With better acquaintance, they turn out to have different personalities. The Lesser is often at smaller ponds, often present in larger flocks, and often seems rather tame. Perhaps a more delicate bird (as it appears to be), it does not winter as far north as the Greater Yellowlegs.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
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

Tends to migrate a little later in spring and earlier in fall than the Greater Yellowlegs.


10 1/2" (27 cm). Slender, with bright yellow legs. In flight shows dark wings, mostly white rump and tail. Very much like Greater Yellowlegs, but note voice and shorter, thinner, straighter bill. See also Stilt Sandpiper.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A flat tu-tu, less musical than call of Greater Yellowlegs.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


Marshes, mudflats, shores, ponds; in summer, open boreal woods. Occurs widely in migration, including coastal estuaries, salt and fresh marshes, edges of lakes and ponds; typically more common on freshwater habitats. Often in same places as Greater Yellowlegs, but may be less frequent on tidal flats. Breeds in large clearings, such as burned areas, near ponds in northern forest.



4, sometimes 3. Buff to yellowish or gray, blotched with brown. Incubation is probably by both parents, roughly 22-23 days.


Downy young are able to leave nest soon after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight probably about 18-20 days.

Feeding Behavior

Typically forages in very shallow water, picking at items on or just below water's surface. Sometimes swings its head back and forth with the tip of the bill in the water.


Insects, small fish, crustaceans. Eats many aquatic insects, including beetles, water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs, crane fly larvae, and others; also terrestrial insects. Also feeds on crustaceans, snails, worms, small fish. Insects make up most of diet in summer.


Nesting behavior not well known. On the breeding territory, male performs a rising and falling display flight, while giving a ringing song that can be heard from some distance. Adults may perch on top of dead trees and call, especially when humans intrude on territory. Nest site is on ground in open, typically in dry site and sometimes far from water; may be placed close to log, burned stump, brushpile. Nest is a shallow depression, sparsely lined with leaves, grass.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

CONSERVATION. Overall numbers appear to be fairly 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 Lesser Yellowlegs. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Lesser 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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