Conservation status CONSERVATION. Overall numbers appear to be fairly stable.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat 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.
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.

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.


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


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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A flat tu-tu, less musical than call of Greater Yellowlegs.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Lesser 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 Near You

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.