Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca



This large shorebird is a member of the sandpiper group.  With an overall length of 14 inches, it is distinguished from other similar sized shorebirds by its yellow legs and slightly up-curved beak.  A close relative, the lessor yellowlegs, has a shorter, straight beak and is several inches smaller.  This individual is dressed for winter, but will add to it's side, breast and neck stripes for the spring mating season. Sexes are similar in size and coloration.


The greater yellowlegs is mainly a spring and fall migrant through south Puget Sound, but some may stay the winter.  Most individuals will travel south along the west and east coasts of the United States and on to South America.  Interestingly the greater yellowlegs molts (annual feather renewal process) in an unusual pattern - beginning the molt on the breeding grounds, suspending it during migration and finishing on the wintering grounds.


It breeds in the far north at the edge of the coniferous forest in muskeg and tundra areas from Alaska east through Canada.  In May it builds a simple nest on the ground where it lays three to four eggs which hatch in 23 days.  The young leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching and move away from the immediate area soon thereafter.


It feeds in both freshwater and estuarine areas on a variety of small animals such as crustaceans, marine worms and insects as well as fish.  Foraging is done alone or in small flocks where the birds skim prey from the water surface or swing their bills back and forth seeking fish.