Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

The Greater Yellowlegs (left) is much more robust than the delicate Lesser Yellowlegs

The Greater Yellowlegs (left) is much more robust than the delicate Lesser Yellowlegs

I’ve been birding for many years but shorebirds have always been a challenge (all those little sandpipers seemed about the same to me!)  This summer I decided to remedy this shortcoming in my skills and volunteered to help with a shorebird survey which is being conducted by the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds.  I asked a friend if I could partner with him as he was excellent at identifying them.  Fortunately he didn’t mind becoming a tutor and he, his wife, my husband and I have had a great time doing these weekly counts of the migrating shorebirds.  Such studies are important as we need to know the areas of our ever shrinking available shoreline habitat that these birds favor during their long migrations.  Last week I managed to take a side-by-side picture of two birds sometimes confused; Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) .  It can be a bit of a puzzle if you see a solitary individual standing at a distance, but seeing them together like this shows the delicacy of the Lesser Yellowlegs compared to the much more robust appearing Greater Yellowlegs.  They can also be  identified by their call, the Greater has three sharp, strident whistle-like notes and the Lesser has a weaker call, usually two.  Although the two species are not close relatives (the Greater Yellowlegs is closer to the Greenshank and the Lesser closer to the Willet), they look very similar and both nest in the marshes and wet clearings of the northern Canadian boreal forests.  They migrate south along our shoreline during the summer and fall to their wintering areas, as far away as South America.  It is important that they have safe available shoreline where they can feed, rest up and restore themselves in peace.


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