Phalaropes are shorebirds that are closely related to wading birds such as shanks, tattlers and sandpipers. There are over fifteen species of Phalaropes that can be found while bird watching in Houston, Texas, and these birds are well worth seeking out. In addition to their unusual nesting behaviors, they also have some very interesting feeding techniques. (One involves swimming in circles to create a whirlpool and reaching in with their bills to pluck out food.) All Phalaropes are slender and long-necked shorebirds, but after that they come in many forms. For tips and suggestions on finding and identifying some of the Phalaropes you may see while bird watching in Houston, Texas, see below.
Greater Yellowlegs. Look for this Phalarope while bird watching at freshwater ponds in Houston, Texas. They are more common during the winter, from September through April. Look for their long, bright yellow legs, and white rumps and tails. These Phalaropes have very long necks and bills, and can be found wading through shallow waters, probing for food with a side to side motion.
Willet. Common throughout the year in Houston, Texas, look for this Phalarope while bird watching near coastal marshes and on beaches. You will recognize this large gray sandpiper while bird watching from its bold black and white wings, as well as its dark bill. They also have stocky bodies and gray legs. Bolivar Flats is a great place to go bird watching for these Phalaropes, which also nest in Houston, Texas.
Lesser Yellowlegs. This Phalarope can be found in ponds and shallow marshes in Houston, Texas, a smaller version of the Greater Yellowlegs (you can tell the difference while bird watching from its shorter, thinner bill.) They also have dark wings and a white rump. These Phalaropes do not nest in Houston, Texas, and while you may be able to see members of this species year round, they are more common from August through April.
Whimbrel. These large Phalaropes have long bills that curve downward. They are a streaky buffy-brown in color, with bold black stripes on their crowns. Look for them while bird watching on the beaches and mudflats of Houston, Texas. You’ll see these Phalaropes probing in the mud for crabs and other snacks. They also eat insects, berries, and sometimes flowers!
Long-billed Curlew. This is a large Phalarope, standing up to two feet tall, with an extremely long bill. Identify them while bird watching from their dark brown heads with prominent eye stripes. They are similar but larger than Whimbrels (see above) with longer bills and lacking the dark head stripes. Look for these Phalaropes while bird watching from the fall through the spring in Houston, Texas.
Marbled Godwit. Look for this large sandpiper while bird watching along the tidal flats and flooded prairies of Houston, Texas. It has a long bill that curves upward, with a pinkish base and dark tip, making it easy to identify. These Phalaropes are brown all over, with orange wingstripes and cinnamon-colored wing linings. They do not nest here in Houston, and so are uncommon in the summer.
Hudsonian Godwit. This Phalarope is smaller than the Marbled Godwit (above), and less common. You can differentiate it from its Marbled cousin while bird watching from its upturned bill, which has a red rather than pink base, and black wing linings. You’ll find it in flooded fields in Houston, Texas, usually in the spring. They have chestnut breasts and pale gray heads that makes them easy to identify while bird watching. These Phalaropes are on the Audubon Watchlist due to damage to their already limited breeding grounds.