Three migrating Wilson’s phalaropes, a medium-sized shorebird, were sighted in a small flooded area of a soybean field this past week in Iroquois County. The phalaropes were feeding vigorously, in their typical erratic fashion, to fatten up for their long-distance journey to their wintering grounds that is primarily in the interior of South America.

The Wilson’s phalaropes spend their winter on the saline lakes of the Andes and on the vast Pampas of Argentina, Patagonia and south to Tierra del Fuego. The Wilson’s is one of the three species of phalaropes that we might see in our area during the migrations, red-necked and red phalarope are the other two.

Red-necked and red phalaropes prefer ocean coastal areas and spend the winter, their nonbreeding time, at sea. The red phalarope nest in the high Arctic, and the red-necked nest above the Arctic circle from the Aleutian Islands and east to Newfoundland and north to Greenland.

Phalaropes can be a challenge to identify at a distance, but the bills are a great place to start. The Wilson’s phalarope has a long thin bill, and the red-necked phalarope has a shorter thin bill while the red phalarope has a shorter thick heavy bill.

Admittedly, although these birds are recorded in Illinois every year during the migrations, it is in low numbers, so feel fortunate if you see one. Higher concentration of nesting Wilson’s phalaropes are in the wetlands and marshes of the northwestern United States with small numbers in the surviving nesting habitat of the states surrounding the western Great Lakes.

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