GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
DESCRIPTION: The Greater Yellowlegs is a wading shorebird. Plumage is mottled brown on top with fine white stripes on the head, and white for the abdomen and rump. The breast is white with fine dark stripes. The bill is dark and longer than the head. The legs are long relative to body size, and yellow. Adults are similar, and juveniles have browner upper parts. The length is around 16 inches (40 cm).
NAME: The English name is self-explanatory. ‘Greater’ implies that there’s also a similar ‘lesser’ yellowlegs. The Latin genus name ‘Tringa’ refers to a bird with a white rump and a bobbing tail in ancient Greece. As for the Latin species name ‘melanoleuca’, it means ‘black white’ in reference to the top part plumage, but it’s actually more brown than black.
HABITAT: Wetlands of the Canadian boreal forest such as marshes and bogs during the summer. On Hawaii they can be observed in mudflats or pools or fishponds. Other wintering habitats include rice paddies or wet meadows.
DIET: The greater yellowlegs feeds from various insects and crustaceans found in shallow waters.
NESTING: The nest is a shallow depression on the ground in a well-hidden area near water. About three grey-brown eggs are laid. The chicks become autonomous within 48 hours.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of the Greater Yellowlegs covers the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. They migrate to the coasts of south USA, to Mexico and South America. Some vagrants will end up in Western Europe, and other rare individuals will choose some Pacific islands such as Hawaii.
ON PEI: The greater yellowlegs is a common to very common shorebird on Prince Edward Island except in the winter. However it does not breed on the island, but does so in the bogs of Cape Breton.
CONSERVATION: Greater yellowlegs used to be hunted before legislation on migratory birds protected them in North America. Unfortunately, hunting of wintering migratory birds still occurs in some parts of the world such as the Caribbean. However the main threat is loss of habitat on their wintering grounds. In spite of this, the species is still considered as ‘least concern’.
NOTES: At least one individual was observed on Dec. 20 at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu, and photographed by Michael Young.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Lesser Yellowlegs. It is not easy to tell the greater Yellowlegs apart from the lesser yellowlegs. One way to distinguish them is by the bill length, which is longer than the head for the greater yellowlegs. Another way is by the species calls which are different (see here for the lesser yellowlegs calls). Also check this reference: https://www.thespruce.com/greater-or-lesser-yellowlegs-386349 .
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/greateryellowlegs.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/greater-yellowlegs (Missouri Department of Conservation)
The video below shows two greater yellowlegs near the shore of Egmont Bay (the voice is from wildlife biologist Rosemary Curley).