Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes


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The summary below is an overview from The Birds of North America Online.

BNA Account Authors: Tibbitts, T. Lee, and William Moskoff

This common, medium-sized shorebird is usually recognized by its long, bright-yellow legs, long neck, graceful stride, and distinctive tu tu call. In summer, breeders are conspicuous residents of open woodlands, meadows, and muskegs in the boreal zone from northwestern Alaska to central Qu├ębec. In winter, they frequent a wide variety of wetland types throughout Central and South America, the West Indies, and the southern United States. Lesser Yellowlegs usually travel in small, loosely structured flocks, but concentrations of thousands are seen at preferred foraging sites during migration and at their main wintering areas in Suriname. The species is a widespread migrant in North America, with primary movement through the interior (spring and fall) and along the Atlantic Coast (fall). Across their wintering range and in the southern portion of their breeding range, Lesser Yellowlegs are often found in the company of their larger congener, the Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca). With a little practice, these two similar species can be readily dis-tinguished by overall size, bill proportions, and voice.

Most research on Lesser Yellowlegs has described diet and habitat associations of nonbreeding birds (e.g., Baldassarre and Fischer 1984, Skagen and Knopf 1994). These studies have provided important baseline information on this species' habitat requirements during migration. Other studies have investigated timing and energetics of migration at stopover sites (e.g., McNeil and Cadieux 1972), trends in fall pop-ulation size on the Atlantic coast (Howe et al. 1989), and response of the species to wetlands management (e.g., Rundle and Fredrickson 1981, Weber and Haig 1996).

Information on breeding biology is based on a few descriptive studies conducted in the early 1900s in Alberta by Fletcher Street (1923), William Rowan (1929), and Thomas Randall (in Bannerman 1961), and a recent study with marked individuals in Alaska (L. Tibbitts unpubl.). These studies indicate that Lesser Yellowlegs are socially monogamous, return to the same general breeding areas, and exhibit low mate fidelity across years. Soon after spring arrival on breeding areas, males begin to perform their distinctive undulating flight displays over nesting and foraging sites. Display activity abates once nests are initiated, and both parents take turns incubating the four-egg clutch. A well-known trait of Lesser Yellowlegs is their vigor-ous defense of nests and chicks. This behavior was aptly described by Rowan (1929) when he stated, "they will be perched there as though the safety of the entire universe depended on the amount of noise they made." This species provides bipar-ental care to its precocial young but females tend to depart breeding areas before chicks can fly, thus leaving males to defend the young until fledging.

Lesser Yellowlegs were avidly sought by sport and market hunters in the late 1800s. High harvest levels during this period were partly due to this species' propensity to return and hover above wounded flockmates, making them easy targets for gunners. Many observers of the day speculated that populations declined during this period but subsequently recovered once hunting was outlawed. The consensus today is that populations are stable, but lack of information on current and historical population sizes makes it difficult to assess the conservation status of this species.

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© Geoffrey A. Keller

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/lesyel