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Jun 08 2011

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Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Lesser Yellowlegs

[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Tringa flavipes | [UK] Lesser Yellowlegs | [FR] Petit Chevalier | [DE] Kleiner Gelbschenkel | [ES] Archibebe patigualdo chico | [NL] Kleine Geelpootruiter

Subspecies

Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

A mottled gray shorebird with bright yellow legs, the Lesser Yellowlegs is similar in appearance to the Greater Yellowlegs, with some important differences. The Lesser Yellowlegs is about half the size (in weight) of the Greater Yellowlegs, which is a useful distinction when the two are seen together. The bill of the Lesser Yellowlegs is not significantly longer than the diameter of its head, whereas the Greater Yellowlegs’ bill is much longer. The bill of the Lesser Yellowlegs does not become paler at the base during the winter; it is solid black year round. Its bill always appears straight, without the slight upturn sometimes seen on the bill of the Greater Yellowlegs. In flight, the Lesser has a dark back, a white rump, and a dark tip on its tail. The Lesser’s legs are relatively shorter than those of the Greater, a difference which can be seen in flight. Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs have finer streaking on their breasts than do juvenile Greater Yellowlegs.

Listen to the sound of Lesser Yellowlegs

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wingspan min.: 59 cm wingspan max.: 64 cm
size min.: 23 cm size max.: 25 cm
incubation min.: 22 days incubation max.: 23 days
fledging min.: 23 days fledging max.: 23 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  

Range

North America : North

Habitat

Lesser Yellowlegs breed in open boreal woods in the far north. They often use large clearings or burned areas near ponds, and will nest as far north as the southern tundra. During migration and winter, they occur on coasts, in marshes, on mudflats, and lakeshores. In comparison to Greater Yellowlegs, Lessers are typically found in more protected areas, on smaller ponds. They are less common on extensive mudflats than Greater Yellowlegs. When nesting, they generally use drier, more sheltered sites than their larger counterparts.

Reproduction

Lesser Yellowlegs nest in loose colonies. They first breed at one to two years of age. They form monogamous pair bonds, but typically pair with a different mate each year. The nest is located on the ground in a dry spot, usually near water, but sometimes quite far away. The nest is usually well hidden in a densely vegetated area, next to a mossy hummock, fallen branch, or log. It is usually a shallow depression lined with moss, twigs, leaves, grass, and needles. Both parents share incubation duties, and the 4 eggs hatch in 22-23 days. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and feed themselves. Both parents tend and aggressively defend the young. The female usually leaves about 11 days after the young hatch, while the male stays with the chicks until they can fly, about 23-31 days. Pairs raise only one brood per season.

Feeding habits

The exaggerated legs of the Tringa genus are best explained by the custom of feeding in the water, often wading out beyond the belly depths of less elevated relatives. Among shorebirds, long bills usually accompany long legs for the same reason. The greater yellowlegs is an accomplished fisher, at times preying almost exclusively on small estuarine fishes such as sticklebacks and sculpins. Sometimes groups of feeding yellowlegs will form lines, wading abreast to corner fish in the shallows. Both yellowlegs, particularly the lesser, also eat invertebrates. Adults and larvae of aquatic insects such as water boatmen, diving beetles, dragonfly nymphs, and flies are important in the diet, as are sand fleas and intertidal amphipods. Terrestrial invertebrates such as ants, grasshoppers, snails, spiders and worms are also taken. In spite of the length of the yellowlegs bill, it is rarely used for probing in sand or mud. The greater yellowlegs will swing its bill from side to side in the water; the lesser yellowlegs does not.
The exaggerated legs of the Tringa genus are best explained by the custom of feeding in the water, often wading out beyond the belly depths of less elevated relatives. Among shorebirds, long bills usually accompany long legs for the same reason. The greater yellowlegs is an accomplished fisher, at times preying almost exclusively on small estuarine fishes such as sticklebacks and sculpins. Sometimes groups of feeding yellowlegs will form lines, wading abreast to corner fish in the shallows. Both yellowlegs, particularly the lesser, also eat invertebrates. Adults and larvae of aquatic insects such as water boatmen, diving beetles, dragonfly nymphs, and flies are important in the diet, as are sand fleas and intertidal amphipods. Terrestrial invertebrates such as ants, grasshoppers, snails, spiders and worms are also taken. In spite of the length of the yellowlegs bill, it is rarely used for probing in sand or mud. The greater yellowlegs will swing its bill from side to side in the water; the lesser yellowlegs does not.

Conservation

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Lesser Yellowlegs status Least Concern

Migration

Migratory. Moves through East Canada, East of breeding range, and (mid-July to mid-September) interior USA between Rocky and ALLEGHENY Mts. Also down Atlantic coast, South of Gulf of St Lawrence. Some may fly direct, or via Bermuda, to Lesser Antilles and North South America; others move South down Atlantic seaboard. Commonly stages at West Amazonian lakes and rivers. Uncommon transient in Central America. Few birds winter on West coast USA, more in South USA, majority in West Indies and North South America, where most abundant in Surinam, and high numbers in Guyana and French Guyana. Fair numbers remain South in Northern summer. In spring, return migration across West Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and North America: in USA, most birds move through interior, fewer up Atlantic coast.

Distribution map

Lesser Yellowlegs distribution range map

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