This is a wader which isn't! Well, it can do in the breeding season but otherwise it is an expert swimmer (lobed not webbed feet) and winters out to sea in nutrient-rich tropical waters. There are three species and this is the one which breeds in the high Arctic right round the North Pole. It is nowhere found on mainland Europe but does breed on Iceland, Bear Island and Svarlbad.
It eats tiny prey which are picked from the surface of the water or caught by upending. It also swims in tight circles (only 100 mm) very fast to bring prey to the surfaces.
This is a slim wader which is grey outside the breeding season with a dark stripe through and behind the eye and pretty near white underparts. In the summer the back feathers have golden edges and the head is capped black but the whole underparts are a rich red colour. The female is the lead bird and the male does all the domestic chores - breeding birds are often loosely colonial. In winter often in flocks of thousands and concentrated in the area off West Africa and in the Humboldt and Benguela upwelling (South America and Africa).
One of the three waders that winter out at sea.
The following Bird On! picture is available:
Grey Phalarope (Watercolour by Robert Gillmor)
Length 210 mm Closed wing 132 mm Weight 60 gms
A Bird On! Sketch by Chris Mead
Copyright © 1996 by Jacobi Jayne & Company and Chris Mead