Lesser Yellowlegs

Tringa flavipes
A Lesser Yellowlegs specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (10-11 inches) sandpiper, the Lesser Yellowlegs in summer is most easily identified by its mottled gray back and wings, pale breast, long straight bill, and characteristic bright yellow legs. In winter, this species becomes slightly duller-plumaged overall. This species may be separated from the related Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) by that species’ much larger size and from the winter Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus) by that species’ plainer plumage and greenish legs. Male and female Lesser Yellowlegs are similar to one another in all seasons. The Lesser Yellowlegs breeds in Alaska and the western Canadian arctic east to the Hudson Bay. This species is a long-distance migrant, wintering from coastal California and the coastal southeastern U.S. south to southern South America. Lesser Yellowlegs migrate through the Caribbean, along both coasts of North America, and in the interior of the continent. Lesser Yellowlegs primarily breed in freshwater marshes surrounded by northern evergreen forests. In winter and on migration, this species may be found in a number of wetland habitats, including freshwater or saltwater marshes, flooded grasslands, and estuaries. Lesser Yellowlegs mainly eat small invertebrates, including insects, aquatic worms, and mollusks. Due to its remote breeding habitat, most birdwatchers never see Lesser Yellowlegs during the summer. On migration or during the winter, this species may be seen probing the mud for food with its bill while wading in shallow water. Lesser Yellowlegs are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common migrant in April and May and late July to October. An uncommon winter resident. Found along shallow mud flats and beaches. The smaller size and call note distinguish this species from the Greater Yellow-legs. Autumn birds are grayer above than spring birds. The sexes are alike.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC48599 Tringa flavipes (Lesser Yellowlegs)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54359 Tringa flavipes (Lesser Yellowlegs)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54361 Tringa flavipes (Lesser Yellowlegs)