BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – IF DOROTHY IN THE WIZARD OF OZ WERE A BIRD, SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN A WILSON’S PHALAROPE

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor, Falaropo Pico Largo (Spanish)

If Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz were a bird, she would have been a Wilson’s Phalarope. First, she wore brighter colors than any of the males just like a female phalarope displays her resplendent plumage during breeding season. Nothing discouraged her from her goal to reach the male wizard. A female Wilson’s Phalarope fights other females to win a male. Dorothy met all challenges to attain her goal to return to Kansas. Almost every Wilson’s Phalarope rests and replenishes in central Kansas enroute from saline lakes of the Andean highlands and grasslands of South America to breed in southern Canada and western US prairie marshes and lakes.

Adult  female Wilson’s Phalarope in breeding plumage
Probably a male Wilson’s Phalarope in winter plumage

Dorothy even survived a tornado with its rotating vortex. A phalarope makes its own vortex in a whirling, twirling feeding dance in shallow water. This feeding behavior stirs insects, mosquito larvae, and crustaceans upward for the bird to pick up its food with its long, skinny bill on the water’s surface. Also a phalarope flock may twirl at the same time close together. Someone named this grouping a swirl, a twirl, a whirl, or a whirligig. I would call it a whiriligiggle.

Female Wilson’s Phalarope eats from upwelling of her spinning vortex

Sometimes it commences to feed on insect larvae flushed up by the Northern Shoveler as this duck plows through mud of shallow ponds with its shovel-like bill to capture its food. This action where one species benefits from another without interference is termed commensalism. The phalarope also forages commensally with American Avocet, Blue-winged Teal, plus Chilean and American Flamingos.

Northern Shoveler plows in mud for food with shovel-shaped bill in shallow pond
American Avocet
Blue-winged Teal male

Although many references stated this species feeds on the water’s surface, I observed several phalaropes plunging their heads into the water possibly to spear prey and even plucking prey along the shoreline.

Female phalarope plunges head into water to feed while swimming
Both the female and males fed along shore

Now that I’ve made my case for Dorothy’s similarities to the female Wilson’s Phalarope, here are more details about this species. The nine-inch females are larger than the males and aggressively fight other females to select a male to mate. During the breeding period, she guards her mate from other females and helps him select a nest site. He scrapes out a nest for her where she lays two to six eggs. (The four egg clutch is the most successful.) Then she departs! (Guess the male had a “fallow hope” she would stay!) She may select another male to mate with and then after her egg laying, leaves again. Each male incubates the eggs for 17 – 21 days, and raises the young alone.

Hmmm, here is a quick summary. Unlike most bird species, the female Wilson’s Phalarope is larger and more brightly colored than the male, fights for a male against other females and selects her mate, defends it, lays eggs, and doesn’t help with incubation or rearing the chicks. After that, she may mate again with a different male and leave him to hatch the eggs and care for the chicks. This role reversal is called polyandry.

 Maybe she is the wizard of odds.

Colorful plumage of female Wilson’s Phalarope
Adult male phalarope at shore

American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, gave the common name to the Wilson’s Phalarope. Wonder where he got that name? Phalarope means “coot foot” in Greek. This photo of the American Coot shows its lobed toes like those of the cousin Red-necked Phalarope which was named for the phalarope species. If I had photographed the Wilson’s fleshy, unlobed toes, I’d call it “photoes.” Anyway, you get the picture; no ruby slippers here.

PHOTO 12

Several references stated this species is mostly silent but its call sounds like “work, work or whit, whit.” In this recording, it sounds to me like a dog bark.

http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/61866/phalaropus-tricolor-wilsons-phalarope-canada-manitoba-william-w-h-gunn

This is an uncommon visitor and sometimes winter resident to Merida and to the peninsula, but for four days, ten of these elegant shorebirds twirled, floated, darted along shore, jabbed for food, and appeared to expend more energy than what they caught at Kai Lu um Park. One Mayan translation for Kai Lu um is “Song of the Earth.” How grateful that I listened.

Water Colors of female Wilson’s Phalarope
Spinning red, white, and blue for food of phalarope

MUSTER UP YOUR COURAGE, EXPAND YOUR BRAIN, FILL UP YOUR HEART WITH NATURE’S WIZARDY TO FEEL THAT YOU’VE COME HOME!

SPECIES MENTIONED:

Wilson’s Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor, Falaropo Pico Largo (Spanish)

Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus, Falaropo Pico Fino (Spanish)

Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata, Pato Cucharón Norteño (Spanish)

American Avocet Recurvirostra americana, Avocate Americana (Spanish)

Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilenos, Flamenco Chileno (Spanish)

American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber, Flamenco Americano (Spanish),  Mekoh (Mayan)

DISCLAIMER: REFERENCES DO NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON INFORMATION:

Barbara MacKinnon via email

The Handbook of Bird Biology, Sal a Pajarear Yucatán, Bird & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North Central America, A Dictionary of Birds, The Sibley Guide to Birds, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/wilpha/cur/introduction?login

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Phalarope/lifehistory

http://birds.audubon.org/species/wilpha,

http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/520/portrait/Wilsons_Phalarope.as px,http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/MigratoryBirds/Featured_Birds/default.cfm?bird=Wilson%27s_Phalarope

http://birdnote.org/show/wilsons-phalarope-0

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo



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