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Identifying Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope, breeding adult female. May in Cochise Co., Arizona. Photo by Brian E. Small

The phalaropes are such unusual shorebirds — with their swimming and spinning habits, and with females much more brightly colored than males — that in the past, they were often considered to make up a family of their own. More recent studies have firmly established their place among the sandpiper family. But from the birder’s standpoint, they’re still unique.

Two of the species, Red Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope, nest on high Arctic tundra and winter out at sea. The third species, Wilson’s Phalarope, nests in marshes in the interior of North America and winters on lakes in South America. It’s the most distinctive member of a unique group.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media