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Wilson's Phalarope

Phalaropus tricolor

Length: 8.5 to 9 inches Wingspan: 14 to 16 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Long thin bill, long black legs, small head, black and rusty stripes on breeding female's neck

Wilson's Phalarope - Phalaropus tricolorThe Wilson's Phalarope is the largest of the phalarope species, and is usually quite tame and approachable within the state.  They feed like many phalaropes, spinning in circles on the water to bring food items to the surface. Also like the other phalaropes, sex roles are somewhat reversed. Female phalaropes are the more brightly plumaged of the two sexes, and after the females lay eggs, they begin migrating southward, leaving incubation of eggs to the male.  This is the only phalarope that leads its entire life on the interior of the continent.


Marshes, shallow lakes and ponds, mudflats.


Mostly aquatic insects and crustaceans.  Also some vegetable matter.


Primarily forages with the phalarope surface-spinning technique, but they also will often wade in search of food, plucking food items from the water's surface, or sometimes probing in the mud. 


 Late May through June.  The nest of a Wilson's Phalarope is a depression on the ground, with a bit of grass lining.  The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, and the male alone incubates the eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the young soon leave the nest. The young find their own food, but the male remains with them and protects them. 


The most frequently heard call of a Wilson's Phalarope is a muted honking-like call. They also have other peeping and whistling-like calls.

1Click here to hear a quiet honking-like call of a female Wilson's Phalarope

2Click here to hear the calls of multiple male Wilson's Phalarope


Summers throughout much of the Northern Plains, western U.S., and southern Canada.  May fly non-stop to wintering grounds in South America.   They are very fond of saline environments on the interior, with very large numbers stopping to feed in places like the Great Salt Lake in Utah. 

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Wilson's Phalarope sightings

Similar Species:

Wilson's Phalarope are by far the most likely phalarope species to be seen in South Dakota, as they migrate through the region as well as breed during the summer months. However, there are other phalarope species that have been found in South Dakota during migration.

Red-necked Phalarope 2 - Phalaropus lobatus Red-necked Phalarope 8 - Phalaropus lobatus Red Phalarope - Phalaropus fulicarius
Red-necked Phalarope Red-necked Phalarope Red Phalarope

Conservation Status:

Numbers of Wilson's Phalarope declined in the 19th century as did many shorebirds, and habitat loss continues to be an issue in local parts of their range. However, systematic surveys in recent decades suggest increasing populations now. They are found across a very broad geographic range, and are quite common in parts of that range. The IUCN lists the Wilson's Phalarope as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

  1. BirdWeb - Wilson's Phalarope
  2. Audubon Field Guide - Wilson's Phalarope
  3. WhatBird - Wilson's Phalarope

Photo Information:

May 20th, 2005 - Lake Thompson, Kingsbury County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Wilson's Phalarope photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Paul Marvin. Recorded in Philips County, Montana on June 3rd, 2015. Original recording and information available on xeno-canto.

2Andrew Spencer. Recorded in Rio Grande County, Colorado on June 28th, 2012. Original recording and information available on xeno-canto.

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Wilson's Phalarope - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident throughout most of the state, except the Black Hills and the extreme southeastern corner.  Common migrant.

Wilson's Phalarope - Videos

Wilson's Phalarope - Phalaropus tricolor
Large Flock - "Spinning"
(Click above for video page to view)

Additional Wilson's Phalarope Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Wilson's Phalarope 1 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 2 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 3 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 4 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 5 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 6 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 7 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 8 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 9 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 10 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 11 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 12 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 13 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 14 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 15 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 16 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 17 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 18 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 19 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 20 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 21  - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 22 - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope 23 - Phalaropus tricolor