Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the greater yellowlegs.
This is one of the shorebirds expected to be migrating over our heads at night and resting here now during the day on its long journey north. You can discover how many birds cross Archuleta County every night, along with other migration information, on the Birdcast website.
Light pollution is a deadly problem for birds migrating at night who are attracted to and confused by bright lights. Collisions with buildings lit up at night kill millions of birds each year. Especially during peak spring and fall migration periods, we are urged to go “lights out” at night. Birdcast is one of the tools used by cities to predict when this simple action is most important.
The greater yellowlegs starts its spring journey earlier than other shorebirds, on its way to breed in areas of northern Canada and southern Alaska after wintering along southern coasts and states and into Mexico. The boggy, buggy conditions of their nesting habitats have made their breeding biology largely unstudied.
Like other sandpipers, greater yellowlegs feed in mudflats, wetlands and wet meadows, seeking aquatic invertebrates, small frogs and fish. Using a high-stepping gait, it walks forward, swinging its head back and forth with its sensitive bill tip underwater. On its long legs, this sandpiper often wades in deeper water than others, darts ahead to catch minnows and sometimes swims.
Known as the telltale, tattler or yelper for its piercing alarm calls which alert all the waterfowl in the marsh to potential danger, this wary bird flushes easily.
Even seen from a distance its yellow legs and feet stand out. In breeding plumage, its upper parts are mottled in brown, gray and white. Its long bill is dark and slightly upturned. Unless the two are seen together when size differences are apparent, as they are in this photo, greater yellowlegs are difficult to distinguish from lesser yellowlegs. Good places to look for these birds here are the shallow ponds along the Riverwalk, Vista pond, Pinon Lake and the shallow ponds along Piedra Road.
For information on events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.