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A photo of a Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope

Phalaropus fulicarius

The Red Phalarope, Phalaropus fulicarius, is a small wader known for its striking plumage and unique behaviors. This bird exhibits a fascinating reversal of typical avian gender roles, with females being the more vibrant and aggressive sex. The Red Phalarope is a migratory species, breeding in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia and spending its winters on tropical oceans.

Identification Tips

Adult Red Phalaropes measure approximately 21 cm in length and can be identified by their lobed toes and straight bill, which is somewhat thicker than that of the Red-necked Phalarope. During the breeding season, females boast a dark brown and black upper body with vivid red underparts and distinctive white cheek patches. Their bill is yellow with a black tip. Males are more subdued in coloration. Juveniles display light grey and brown upper parts with buff underparts and a dark eye patch. In winter, the plumage transitions to grey above and white below, but the black eye patch remains. The winter bill is black.


The Red Phalarope breeds in Arctic tundra environments near water bodies. After breeding, it spends the majority of its time at sea, often in areas where ocean currents converge, creating upwellings rich in food sources.


This species is migratory, with a breeding range across the Arctic and a wintering range that spans tropical oceans. It is known for its oceanic migration routes.


Red Phalaropes are known for their swimming behavior, where they create small whirlpools to bring food to the surface. They are also observed flying to catch insects in the air. During the non-breeding season, they are sociable and can be found in flocks, often displaying a remarkable tameness around humans.

Song & Calls

The call of the Red Phalarope is a short, sharp "beek," often heard during interactions with other birds.


In a reversal of typical bird roles, the larger and more colorful females court males and defend territories. After laying olive-brown eggs, females depart, leaving males to incubate and rear the young. The eggs hatch after 18 or 19 days, and the chicks, which feed themselves, can fly within 18 days.

Similar Species

The Red Phalarope can be confused with the Red-necked Phalarope, but can be distinguished by its thicker bill and different breeding plumage.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists of insects and crustaceans, which they adeptly pluck from water surfaces or catch in flight. Their unique feeding behavior involves swimming in tight circles to create whirlpools that bring prey within reach.

Conservation status

The Red Phalarope is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. It is protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Red Phalarope Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Red Phalarope Fun Facts

Did you know?
When hunting, Red Phalarope form small whirlpools to raise prey towards the surface.

Red Phalaropes on Birda


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