Greater Yellowlegs: Seashore Sunday

Hello everyone! I’m sorry that the weekly Seashore feature is late. It was my friend/bird teacher Maria’s wedding this weekend, so I was away for a few days. We will have Seashore Sunday instead. Since this was Maria’s weekend, I wanted to write about the Greater Yellowlegs, a bird she told me she wanted to learn more about.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)


Greater Yellowlegs are medium-sized shorebirds that are part of the sandpiper family. True to their name, they have long bright yellow legs. Their upperparts are dark brown and underparts are white. Greater Yellowlegs have long necks and bills that curve up slightly. The term Greater is part of their name because they are the larger birds of the two Yellowlegs species.

Greater Yellowlegs (Image by “Mike” Michael L. Baird via wikipedia)


Breeding (Summer): Northern Canada through Southern Alaska Migration: throughout a majority of the United States and parts of Central America Winter: Southern United States, Atlantic Coast up through New Jersey, Pacific Coast of California, Mexico and all of South America


Open marshes and beaches, tidal estuaries, mudflats, bogs, lakes, ponds, and riverbanks

A Greater Yellowlegs at Ridgefield NWR, Washington (Image via


Small fish, invertebrates, insects, snails, marine worms, and frogs. Greater Yellowlegs forage by probing in shallow water and moving the tip of its bill from side to side.


Male Yellowlegs attract a female by a flight display that includes a loud, whistling song. Nests are built nearby water on the ground and lined with moss, grass, and other natural materials. They usually have 4 eggs which are incubated by both parents for around 23 days. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and feed themselves but are also tended to by their parents. First flights usually take place between 18-20 days.


Greater Yellowlegs are known for their piercing alarm calls; 3 or 4 clear notes; teww-teww-teww-teww!

Fun Facts:

  • Unless they two species are side by side, it is difficult to tell the difference between a Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. There are other ways to identify them. Greater’s bills are thicker, long, two-toned, and slightly upwards. Lessers have a very straight  dark bill that is needle-thin. Their voices are also distinct: Greaters give 3 to 4 loud calls while Lessers give 2 softer and shorter calls.
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs 1a TR_thumb
Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (Image by Tom Reed via
  • Although Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs look very similar, the Greater’s closest relative is actually the Common Greenshank of Eurasia.
  • Greater Yellowlegs are widespread, but since they breed in heavily mosquito-ridden areas and are low in density, they are one of the least-studied shorebirds of North America.



Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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