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Greater Yellowlegs

Tringa melanoleuca

The greater yellowlegs can be found in Chesapeake Bay marshes and mudflats in the spring and fall. (Bill Bouton/Flickr)
The greater yellowlegs can be found in Chesapeake Bay marshes and mudflats in the spring and fall. (Bill Bouton/Flickr)

The greater yellowlegs is a slender shorebird with a long, upturned bill and distinctive yellow or orange legs.


  • Medium-sized, slender shorebird measures about 14 inches long 
  • Long bill is slightly upturned, measures about one and a half times the length of head 
  • Long legs are yellow to orange 
  • Backs are brown in color and checkered with white. Neck and breast are white with brownish gray streaks. Belly and rump are white. Tail is white and crossed with thin black bars 


  • Tidal wetlands, marshes and mudflats, both fresh and saltwater 


  • Found in the Chesapeake Bay in spring and fall; uncommon in summer and winter 
  • Breeds in band that stretches from southern Alaska and British Columbia in the west to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the east 
  • Winters along the ocean coasts of North America, from California south to Central America and from Virginia south to the Gulf of Mexico 


  • Feeds during day and at night in shallows and mud flats, moving head in side-to-side or sweeping motion while seeking insect larvae, worms, snails, shrimp, small fish and frogs. Also probes aquatic vegetation to dislodge hidden fish 
  • Swallows prey whole, headfirst 


  • Strong, swift flight
  • Migrates in groups


  • Loud, clear call consists of three descending notes, a "whew-whew-whew" or "tew-tew-tew"
  • Call variations include alarm, breeding, take-off, landing and migratory calls, as well as conversational murmuring 
Greater Yellowlegs courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Pairs are thought to mate for life and take joint care of young 
  • During courtship, male runs in circles around female and poses while quivering upheld wings
  • Nests are made on the ground in a shallow scrape or depression in moss or peat. Nests lined with dead leaves, lichens, grasses and short, thin twigs
  • Female lays one brood per season, consisting of three or four spotted eggs in a clutch 
  • Incubation period lasts 23 days; chicks take 18 to 20 days to fledge 

Sources and Additional Information:


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge, Md.

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