Fun Red Phalarope Facts For Kids

Oluwatosin Michael
May 11, 2023 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Isobel Murphy
Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma
Red phalarope facts about a small Arctic wader bird.

Have you ever heard of birds that follow whales around, eating crustaceans and picking parasites from their back? These birds that flock with marine mammals in open seas are called red phalaropes.

Wintering in seawater, these shorebirds spend most of their time swimming and feeding on zooplankton and small fishes. The unique feature of these birds is that they swim very fast in circles to bring food to the surface of the water to feed on.

They are found in North America and Eurasia's arctic tundra regions. They also migrate to the Atlantic Coast of Africa and Peru in the Pacific Ocean and are rarely seen inland.

They are migratory birds and the birds exhibit sexual dimorphism. Females are brighter in color than males and also exhibit brighter plumage during the breeding season. The red phalarope is one of the three phalaropes and is often confused with the red-necked phalarope, though the former is larger in build and has a distinguishable larger yellow bill.

If you like this article, why not go through our chipping sparrow and scarlet macaw facts too?

Red Phalarope Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a red phalarope?

The red phalarope is a small shorebird. This bird looks entirely different during its breeding and non-breeding seasons because of the change in its plumage color. It is an oceanic bird of the order Charadriiformes.

What class of animal does a red phalarope belong to?

The red phalarope ( Phalaropus fulicarius ) belongs to the Aves class. The species belongs to the large family of sandpipers and the red phalarope is the largest of all phalaropes.

It is one of three surviving species of slender-necked shorebirds of the genus Phalaropus. These are birds that live near water and eat invertebrates. They are of the order Charadriiformes, the family Scolopacidae, and are part of a large family of sandpipers.

How many red phalaropes are there in the world?

Though the exact population of this bird species is unknown, there are over a million of these birds according to one study. However, oil spills and temperature rises are affecting the population of these shorebirds negatively.

Where does a red phalarope live?

The red phalarope is native to Arctic regions. The species is found in North America and Eurasia and the bird migrates after breeding from the tundra when the temperatures drop in winter.

They spend winter in open ocean currents. They are found in the currents of the Atlantic Ocean along the west coast of Africa, from Morocco to Namibia, and in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California and Peru. They are seldom found in inland regions.

What is a red phalarope's habitat?

The red phalarope is found in arctic tundra regions where it breeds. They are found in these tundra regions during summer as this is their breeding period.

These areas have abundant vegetation ideal for nesting. They keep themselves away from inland regions but are also found in brackish lakes and ponds near the sea. They are also sometimes found in flooded rivers and bogs alongside the red-necked phalarope.

Who do red phalaropes live with?

Red phalarope birds flock with the closely related red-necked phalarope, and their ranges overlap regularly. They are often also seen close to large mammals in the ocean as this species flocks around large mammals to feed on crustaceans that get stirred up in the water near them. This bird also feeds and flocks alongside walruses and ringed seals.

How long does a red phalarope live?

On average, a red phalarope lives for between five and seven years. However, the oldest bird on record is 10 years old!

How do they reproduce?

This species reproduces by sexual reproduction. Females are dominant and they chase each other to partner with a male. Female birds aggressively defend their nests and their chosen males from other females.

This species breeds on water, and then the female lays three to six eggs in a nest built in vegetation. After that, females leave the nest for males to incubate the eggs, which hatch in under three weeks. The young birds are ready to fly around 18 days after birth.

What is their conservation status?

According to the IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the red phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) bird is Least Concern. They are found in abundance in the world right now.

Red Phalarope Fun Facts

What do red phalaropes look like?

The red phalarope is a bright bird with brown and black plumage and a red underside. They also have white cheek patches.

The bird has a dark black eyepatch and a large yellow bill which is tipped black. The bird is brighter in the breeding season and during winter, as it migrates, its plumage is more gray above and white underneath. Its bill is also completely black.

A grey phalarope on water.


How cute are they?

The bird looks cute both in winter and summer with different plumage colors depending on whether it is the breeding season or not. Young red phalaropes are also cute with their light gray and brown feathers, buff undersides, and dark bills. The sight of these birds going around in circles in the sea is truly adorable!

How do they communicate?

Red phalaropes are loud birds, and their calls can be heard from long distances away. To alert each other of impending danger, they call out a quick single 'peet' alarm call. They also communicate by physical gestures, either on water or while flying, to their partners.

How big is a red phalarope?

A red phalarope is the second largest of all phalaropes. It stands 7.7-9 in (19.6-22.9 cm) tall with a wingspan of 17 in (43.18 cm).

How fast can a red phalarope fly?

The red phalarope is a migratory species, and flight is an important part of their lives. Though the species spend most of their time swimming in sea waters, they can also fly at impressive speeds to catch their prey in flight.

How much does a red phalarope weigh?

An adult red phalarope weighs 1.9 oz (53.9 g). The species shows sexual dimorphism, and females are bigger and brighter than males.

What are the male and female names of the species?

Females are brighter than males, but they don't have specific names for each gender. However, a group of phalaropes is known by many names, including 'dropping', 'swirl', 'twirl', 'whirl', and a 'whirligig' phalaropes.

What would you call a baby red phalarope?

Baby red phalarope is called a hatchling after hatching and a fledgling before it can take flight, like any other bird's young ones.

What do they eat?

Red phalaropes are carnivorous. Their diet consists of invertebrates, amphibians, and small insects. Their food also includes small fish, fish eggs, and larvae.

Are they aggressive?

These birds are not aggressive but are very gregarious. However, females are aggressive towards each other during the breeding season when they are trying to partner with a male.

Would they make a good pet?

The bird is not kept as a pet since they are abundantly found in their natural habitat, and also, they are migratory so cannot be kept as pets.

Did you know...

These birds are seen circling in seawater, forming small whirlpools. This behavior aids feeding by raising their food from the bottom of the water.

Three living species are present in the phalarope family. The red phalarope and the red-necked phalarope are often confused with each other because of the similarities in their plumage, feeding habits, and migratory behavior. Still, they can be distinguished by the shorter bill of the red-necked phalarope.

Sometimes these species inter-breed. The third living phalarope species is Wilson's phalarope. This is the largest phalarope found in North American prairies.

Where can you find the red phalarope?

These birds are shorebirds and are found in the marine habitats of arctic regions in North American and Eurasian seas.

Can you pet a red phalarope?

No, you cannot pet a red phalarope bird as this bird lives most of its life in sea waters.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds including the savannah sparrow, or killdeer.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our red phalarope coloring pages.

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

Oluwatosin Michael picture

Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma

Bachelor of Commerce

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Shikha SharmaBachelor of Commerce

Shikha has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Delhi. She also holds a Diploma in Information Technology, which has helped her acquire technical and design skills.

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