This Week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Wilson’s phalarope.
This is a species that does not conform to many of our ideas about birds. Unlike most, it is the female who is larger and the more colorful of the pair. She is also more aggressive and the one who initiates bonding with a mate, chasing off competitors and performing the courtship dance to the male.
After breeding and laying eggs, the female leaves incubation and care of the chicks to the male while she goes off to attract another mate. These birds breed in inland wetlands, marshes and roadside ditches of the great plains and intermountain west.
Unlike most birds, Wilson’s phalaropes molt their feathers and become temporarily flightless at resting stops during migration. Enormous numbers congregate at saltwater lakes, including the Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake and the Salton Sea, for several weeks before continuing their journey to saltwater lakes and wetlands in South America for the winter.
Long-distance migration requires a store of body fat and changes in metabolism to provide the energy required to fly long distances, often nonstop. During this break in their journey, these birds double their body weight and sometimes become too fat to fly.
In groups, they are often seen spinning in circles on a lake to bring aquatic invertebrates to the surface to feed upon. They are the only shorebirds that regularly swim in deep water.
These small birds sit high on the water. They are grayish birds with rusty highlights on a slender neck area and a very thin, straight bill. In breeding plumage, the female is brighter and has a dark line through her eye which extends down her neck.
Look for them to stop here on their journey north.
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