Bird GuideSandpipersRed Phalarope

At a Glance

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. The Red Phalarope nests in the high Arctic, and winters in flocks on southern oceans. It is rarely seen inland in most parts of North America.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Open Ocean, 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, Erratic, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Migrates mostly offshore; rarely seen inland south of breeding grounds. A few winter off North American coast, but most apparently are well south of Equator in winter. Migrates later in fall than Red-necked Phalarope.


8" (20 cm). Spring female rich chestnut-red below, with white on face, yellow base of bill, buff back stripes. Male duller. Fall adults similar to Red-necked but smoother gray on back (without stripes), and have much thicker bill. Fall juveniles show more buff at first.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Sharp metallic kreeep.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Chatter, Chirp/Chip, Scream, Trill


Ocean; tundra in summer. For most of year found only out at sea, often very far from land. Favors areas with upwellings or tide rips, or where warm and cold currents converge; may regularly associate with whales. In summer on low-lying wet tundra near coast in high arctic.



4, sometimes 2-3. Olive to buff, blotched with black or dark brown. Sometimes 2 females lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by male only, 18-20 days.


Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching; male leads them to edge of nearby pond. Young are tended by male (rarely joined by female) but mostly feed themselves. Male may remain with young until they can fly, or may abandon them after just a few days; abandoned young can care for themselves. Age at first flight about 16-18 days.

Feeding Behavior

Unlike any other sandpipers, phalaropes forage mostly while swimming, by picking items from water's surface or just below it. Often they spin in circles on shallow water, probably to stir things up and bring food closer to surface. In general, they feed very rapidly on very small prey. At sea, may land on mats of floating seaweed, and may pick parasites from backs of whales. On breeding grounds, also forages while walking or wading, and flutters up to catch insects in the air.


Includes insects, mollusks, crustaceans. On tundra, eats many insects, especially aquatic ones; also small mollusks, crustaceans, worms, bits of plant material, rarely small fish. Diet in winter poorly known.


In courtship, female flies in wide circle, calling. Female may chase male in the air, or pursues male on water, head hunched down between her shoulders. After leaving male to care for eggs, female will sometimes find a second mate and lay a second clutch of eggs. Nest site is on ground among low vegetation, usually near water. Nest is a shallow scrape lined with grass, lichens, moss. Both sexes make scrapes, female selects one, male adds nest lining.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers are difficult to measure, but populations are thought to have declined recently. Breeding areas in high Arctic are vulnerable to effects of climate change, while changes in ocean conditions could cause problems for the birds wintering at sea.

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 Red Phalarope. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Red Phalarope

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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