Red Phalarope

Phalaropus fulicarius
A Red Phalarope specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (8-9 inches) wader, the male Red Phalarope in summer is most easily identified by its reddish-brown breast, mottled black-and-white upperparts, yellow bill and legs, and black head with white cheek patches. Summer females are similar but paler, especially on the breast and face. Winter birds of both sexes are light gray above and white below with conspicuous dark gray eye-stripes. This species is unmistakable in summer; in winter, it may be separated from the related Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) and Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) by its lighter body as well as its shorter bill and legs. The Red Phalarope breeds along all coasts of the Arctic Ocean in North America and Eurasia. In winter, this species is found far offshore, mostly in tropical waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This species migrates over water, but a few birds winter in waters near the United States, mostly off the coast of Florida, California, and Louisiana. Red Phalaropes breed in marshy portions of coastal tundra. In winter, this species is exclusively marine, being found in deep water far from shore. This species primarily eats insects during the breeding season, switching to an entirely plankton-based diet during the winter. Due to this species’ remote breeding and wintering grounds, Red Phalaropes are seen by relatively few birdwatchers. In summer, this species may be seen walking in shallow water while picking food off of vegetation or the surface of the water. In winter, Red Phalaropes may be seen in large flocks, swimming gull-like while picking plankton off the water’s surface. This species has been known to wait for large baleen whales to locate plankton before helping themselves to leftovers. Red Phalaropes are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

A very rare migrant: two recorded here in May and several in July, August, and October. This is the most pelagic (living away from land) of the phalaropes. The females are larger than the males and more colorful in breeding plumage.

Specimen Information

This may be the information for the bird on the left (pictured above).
Date:  10/3/1912
Collected By:  Wm Palmer
Locality:  Potomac River, Washington DC
Sex:  Male, Immature
Catalog ID:  236336
An adult male is on the right (not pictured here).
Date:  5/29/1918
Collected By:  Edward J Brown
Locality:  Hyperion, Los Angeles Co, CA
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  255005

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species