name = Phalaropes

image_width = 240px
image_caption = Female Red-necked Phalarope ("Phalaropus lobatus") in breeding plumage
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
subclassis = Neornithes
infraclassis = Neognathae
superordo = Neoaves
ordo = Charadriiformes
familia = Scolopacidae
subordo = Scolopaci
genus = "Phalaropus"
genus_authority = Brisson, 1760
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision = "Phalaropus fulicarius"
"Phalaropus lobatus"
"Phalaropus tricolor"
synonyms ="Steganopus"

A phalarope is any of three living species of slender-necked shorebirds in the genus "Phalaropus" of the bird family Scolopacidae. They are close relatives of the shanks and tattlers, the "Actitis" and Terek Sandpipers, and also of the turnstones and calidrids [van Tuinen "et al." (2004)] . They are especially notable for two things: their unusual nesting behavior, and their unique feeding technique.

Two species, the Red Phalarope ("Phalaropus fulicarius", called Grey Phalarope in Europe) and Red-necked Phalarope ("P. lobatus") breed around the Arctic Circle and winter on tropical oceans. Wilson's Phalarope ("P. tricolor") breeds in western North America and migrates to South America. All are 6-10" (15-25 cm) in length, with lobed toes and a straight, slender bill. Predominantly grey and white in winter, their plumage develops reddish markings in summer.

A fossil species, "Phalaropus elenorae", is known from the Middle Pliocene 4-3 million years ago (mya). A coracoid fragment from the Late Oligocene (c. 23 mya) near Créchy, France, was also ascribed to a primitive phalarope [Hugueney "et al." (2003)] ; it might belong to an early species of the present genus or a prehistoric relative. The divergence of phalaropes from their closest relatives can be dated to around that time, as evidenced by the fossil record (chiefly of the shanks) and supported by tentative DNA sequence data [Mlíkovský (2002), Paton "et al." (2003)] . It is notable that the last remains of the Turgai Sea disappeared around then, and given the distribution of their fossil species it is quite plausible that this process played a major role in separating the lineages of the shank-phalarope clade.

Ecology and behavior

Red and Red-necked Phalaropes are unusual amongst shorebirds in that they are considered pelagic, that is, they spend a great deal of their lives outside the breeding season well out to sea. Phalaropes are unusually halophilic (salt-loving) and feed in great numbers in saline lakes such as Mono Lake in California and the Great Salt Lake of Utah.


When feeding, a phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the center of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein.

It has been shown that phalaropes use the surface tension of water to capture food particles and get them to move up along their bill and into their mouths. [Rubega MA & BS Obst (1993) Surface-tension feeding in Phalaropes: Discovery of a novel-feeding mechanism. The Auk 110:169-178 [ PDF] ]

Reversed sexual dimorphism and reproduction

The sexual dimorphism and contribution to parenting are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. The females pursue males, compete for nesting territory, and will aggressively defend their nests and chosen mates. Once the females lay their eggs, they begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and care for the young.



* (2003): La limite Oligocène-Miocène en Limagne: changements fauniques chez les mammifères, oiseaux et ostracodes des différents niveaux de Billy-Créchy (Allier, France) [The Oligocene-Miocene boundary in Limagne: faunal changes in the mammals, birds and ostracods from the different levels of Billy-Créchy (Allier, France)] [French with English abstract] . "Geobios" 36(6): 719–731. doi|10.1016/j.geobios.2003.01.002 (HTML abstract)
* (2002): "Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe". Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 [ PDF fulltext]
* (2003): RAG-1 sequences resolve phylogenetic relationships within charadriiform birds. "Mol. Phylogenet. Evol." 29(2): 268-278. doi|10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00098-8 (HTML abstract)
* (2004): Avian molecular systematics on the rebound: a fresh look at modern shorebird phylogenetic relationships. "J. Avian Biol." 35(3): 191-194. doi|10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03362.x [ PDF fulltext]

External links

* [ Phalarope videos] on the Internet Bird Collection

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Phalarope — Phal a*rope, n. [Gr. ? having a patch of white + ?, ?, a foot: cf. F. phalarope.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any species of {Phalaropus} and allied genera of small wading birds ({Grall[ae]}), having lobate toes. They are often seen far from land, swimming in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • phalarope — ● phalarope nom masculin (grec phalaros, tacheté de blanc, et pous, pied) Petit échassier charadriiforme à bec pointu, à pattes aux doigts lobés lui permettant de nager aisément. (Au moment de la reproduction, les femelles prennent une parure… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • phalarope — [fal′ə rōp΄] n. [Fr < ModL Phalaropus, name of the type genus < Gr phalaris, coot (akin to phalos, white: from its white head) + pous,FOOT] any of a family (Phalaropodidae) of small shorebirds: the male rears the young …   English World dictionary

  • Phalarope — Phalaropes Ph …   Wikipédia en Français

  • phalarope — /fal euh rohp /, n. any of three species of small, aquatic birds of the family Phalaropodidae, resembling sandpipers but having lobate toes. [1770 80; < F < NL Phalaropus genus name < Gk phalar(ís) coot + o O + pous footed; see POD] * * * Any of… …   Universalium

  • phalarope — /ˈfæləroʊp/ (say faluhrohp) noun any of three species of small aquatic birds of the family Scolopacidae, (formerly Phalaropodidae), resembling sandpipers, but having lobate toes, as the red necked phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus, an uncommon… …   Australian-English dictionary

  • phalarope — noun (plural ropes; also rope) Etymology: French, from New Latin phalaropod , phalaropus, from Greek phalaris coot + pod , pous foot; akin to Greek phalios having a white spot more at bald, foot Date: circa 1776 any of a genus (Phalaropus) of… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • phalarope — noun /ˈfæləɹəʊp/ Any of three small wading birds in the genus Phalaropus, of the family Scolopacidae, that have lobed toes …   Wiktionary

  • phalarope — (entrée créée par le supplément) (fa la ro p ) s. m. Genre d oiseaux de l ordre des échassiers. ÉTYMOLOGIE    Du grec, brillant, et, pied …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • phalarope — migratory shorebird with lobed feet Unusual Animals …   Phrontistery dictionary

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