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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.

Appearance:

The greater yellowlegs is a medium-sized, slender shorebird that measures about 14 inches long. Its long bill is slightly upturned and measures about one and a half times the length of its head. It has long legs that are yellow to orange in color. Its back is brown and checkered with white, its neck and breast are white with brownish gray streaks, and its belly and rump are white. Its tail is white and crossed with thin black bars.

Habitat:

Tidal wetlands, marshes and mudflats, both fresh and saltwater

Range:

Found in the Chesapeake Bay in spring and fall but are uncommon in summer and winter. Breeding range is a band that stretches from southern Alaska and British Columbia in the west to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the east. Winter along the ocean coasts of North America, from California south to Central America and from Virginia south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Feeding:

The greater yellowlegs 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. It also probes aquatic vegetation to dislodge hidden fish. It swallows prey whole, headfirst.

Flight:

The greater yellowlegs has a strong, swift flight and migrates in groups.

Voice:

The loud, clear call of the greater yellowlegs 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:

During courtship, a male will run in circles around a female and pose while quivering its upheld wings. Pairs are thought to mate for life and take joint care of young. 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.

Other Facts:

  • Yellowlegs have also been called "tattlers," because they would raise a noisy alarm when bird hunters were near. Although shorebirds are now protected from hunting, yellowlegs may annoy birders by spooking other shorebirds with their alarm calls.

Sources and Additional Information:

Places:

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge, Md.




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