Bird Lore: Greater Yellowlegs



The Greater Yellowlegs is a wading shorebird of freshwater ponds and tidal marshes that winters along the coastal United States. It breeds in muskeg and bogs that are inhospitable to humans, across the middle latitudes of Canada, from coastal Alaska to the Maritime Provinces. It is now showing up in the Edmonds marsh because fall shorebird migration is underway. While it is seen regularly in Edmonds with some difficulty, that usually means just during spring and fall shorebird migration.

While feeding in shallow water, the Greater Yellowlegs runs about on its trademark yellow legs. It chases minnows and killfish, stabbing its bill into the water. It will also walk forward, swinging its head with the tip of its bill in the water, feeling for food. It has been described as an active, angry and aggressive feeder. Insects make up a larger part of its diet during breeding season.

The male, on its breeding grounds, engages in flight displays, rising and descending with flutters and glides. At the same time it whistles a loud, ringing song. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground, usually near water. It is lined with dead leaves and grasses and is well concealed. The female usually lays four eggs, incubated by both sexes for about three weeks. The downy young are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents feed them. Their age at first flight is probably around three weeks.

The Greater Yellowlegs has not been studied extensively but its population appears to be stable. It is considered a species of least concern.

The Greater Yellowlegs is a noisy and alert shorebird. You can listen to its call here:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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