Though common over much of North America during migration, the Greater Yellowlegs isn’t seen in large flocks. Its piercing call makes it conspicuous even in smaller numbers. The muskeg breeding habitat of the Greater Yellowlegs is difficult to reach and is rich with mosquitoes, so the species has not been well studied during the nesting season.
The Greater Yellowlegs can swim, although its long, yellow legs allow it to wade in fairly deep water. Aquatic invertebrates are captured from the water with stabs of its bill, and it sometimes eats small fish or frogs as well.
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Description of the Greater Yellowlegs
The Greater Yellowlegs is a lanky shorebird with long yellow legs, a slightly upturned, dark bill that is more than twice as long as the head, and brownish-gray upperparts heavily mottled with white. Length: 14 in. Wingspan: 28 in.
Seasonal change in appearance
Nonbreeding birds are slightly paler.
Immatures resemble adults.
Greater Yellowlegs inhabit marshes and shorelines, ponds, and spruce bogs.
Greater Yellowlegs primarily eat insects and small fish.
Greater Yellowlegs use their long legs to forage in shallow water.
Greater Yellowlegs breed in Alaska and central Canada, and winter across the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic Coasts, as well as points south. The population is not well monitored, but may be stable or declining slightly.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Greater Yellowlegs.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
Greater Yellowlegs sometimes run after small fish when foraging.
Greater Yellowlegs tend to be more solitary than Lesser Yellowlegs, and are often found on larger bodies of water.
The typical call is a 3 or 4-note, strident, “tu-tu-tu-tu.”
- Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs have a bill that is only slightly longer than the head, and calls include only one or two notes rather than three or four.
The Greater Yellowlegs’ nest is a shallow depression filled with leaves and grasses and placed within a patch of moss.
Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: Buff with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 23 days and leave the nest soon after hatching, but cannot fly for about 3 weeks.
Bent Life History of the Greater Yellowlegs
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Greater Yellowlegs – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
TOTANUS MELANOLEUCUS (Gmelin)
The names, telltale and tattler, have long been applied to both of the yellow-legs, and deservedly so, for their noisy, talkative habits are their best known traits. They are always on the alert and ever vigilant to warn their less observant or more trusting companions by their loud, insistent cries of alarm that some danger is approaching. Every sportsman knows this trait and tries to avoid arousing this alarm when other, more desirable, game is likely to be frightened away. And many a yellow-legs has been shot by an angry gunner as a reward for his exasperating loquacity.
The two yellow-legs are still left on our list of game birds, because their numbers do not seem to decrease much in spite of the large numbers that are killed every year by sportsmen. William Brewster (1925) says that he has “failed to note any decided lessening of their numbers in New England during the past 30 or 40 years.” This stability in numbers is probably more apparent than real. The birds have been driven from many of their former haunts by increased building of summer colonies, improvements in seashore resorts, draining and filling of marshes, and other changes; so that fewer birds can make the restricted localities seem as well populated as ever.
Spring: The spring migration of the greater yellow-legs is well marked on both coasts and in the interior, a generally northward trend. It begins in March, reaches the northern States in April and extends through May or even into June, Although most of the birds are on their breeding grounds in May. The bulk of the flight passes through Massachusetts in May and through California in April. It seems to avoid the prairie regions of southern Canada; William Rowan tells me that he and C. G. Harrold regard it as “probably the scarcest of the regular waders. In years of steady collecting, during the height of the migration, spring and fall, he (Harrold) has seen the greater yellow-legs only half a dozen times.” J. A. Munro tells me that in southern British Columbia, Okanagan Landing, it is much less common in spring than in fall; he has recorded it as early as March 23.
J. B. Whitaker writes to me from Newfoundland that he usually sees the first yellow-legs during early May: “On their first arrival the high tundras are still in the grip of winter and many of the ponds on the lower levels are partly covered with ice.” John T. Nichols tells me that it is often abundant on Long Island in the spring. He says in his notes: “In May, 1919, the waters of a certain nontidal coastal creek, due to wind conditions, receded to an unprecedented lowness, leaving broad muddy shores exposed where almost always water stands. In what seemed almost a magical response to the unusual water conditions, about 100 greater yellowlegs assembled at the creek, the largest flock I have ever seen. Alighted, the birds were silent, and without the nervous kikkuping one associates with this species. Once all got up and circled in a compact flock to return to the mud and shallows again.”
Courtship: Mr. Whitaker writes to me:
The time for nesting varies as much as 10 days between the few pairs which frequent the lower levels and the bulk of the birds which nest on the high grounds. On the lowlands a pair of birds will take up their quarters near the place they intend to nest soon after their arrival and the cock bird may be seen high up in the air uttering his nesting song. He will sometimes be so high that he appears but a speck against the blue sky. His loud notes carry a long distance and sound like tweda-tweda-tsvecfG uttered quickly and continually for quite a long time.
Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1920) writes:
The courtship song of the greater yellowlegs comes up from the marshes of Essex County throughout the month of May, but is heard in greater volume during the two middle weeks. It has a sweet and pleading character and seems to say wull yet? wail vet? Although it differs from the flickerlike call described in the original Memoir, which may be heard at the same time, it, too, has a decided flickerlike flavor. It is heard throughout the day, but in the evening until it is nearly dark the marshes often resound with the plaintive callings.
H. S. Swarth (1911) observed some greater yellow-legs on the wooded islands of southeastern Alaska in April, of which he says:
At this time the males were going through various courting antics, posing with upraised, quivering wings, or running in circles on the sand bars around the object of their attentions, and Incessantly uttering the shrill whistle peculiar to the species.
Nesting: Considering the fact that the greater yellow-legs is such a common and widely distributed bird, remarkably little has been published on its nesting habits, and comparatively few nests have been found, in spite of the fact that it does not go very far north to breed and its breeding grounds are fairly accessible. I know from personal experience with it that its nest is very hard to find. I have spent many hours hunting for its nest on the high tundras of central Newfoundland, where it breeds commonly, and secured only one set of eggs. The male bird is very noisy and solicitous, flying out to meet the intruder while he is a long way from the nest, alighting on any available spruce tree, stump, rock, or other eminince, pouring out. a steady stream of invective cries and showing the greatest anxiety, but giving not the slightest clue as to the location of the nest. And the female sits so closely on the nest that it is only by the merest chance that she can be flushed. The high tundra around Gaiftopsail and Quarry, Newfoundland, is an immense tract of boggy ground, full of small ponds and muddy splasl~s, interspersed with mossy hummocks and outeroppings of rocks. My set was taken there on June 9, 1912; it was in a mere hollow in the moss on a small hummock in a shallow, muddy pond hole; the female was flushed, and the four eggs were fresh.
Mr. Whitaker has sent me the following notes on the nesting habits of the greater yellow-legs in Newfoundland:
On June 17, 1919, whilst walking over a big tundra with a friend (Geo. H. Stuart, 3rd), a yellow-shank which flew up from the side of a water hole showed considerable excitement, there were a number of small ponds just there dotted with mossy islands; we beat all the ground between these ponds but could find nothing, however, we noticed that each time we approached the edge of the tundra where a stunted growth of scattered dead larch trees were, and where the wintergreen, laurel, and labrador tea bushes merged into the sphagnum of the tundra, the bird seemed more excited and flew close round our heads shrieking out his harsh notes tee erk, tee erk, tee erk more fiercely. We decided to hide away at some dIstance and watch, thinking this must be the hen bird and we would wait until she returned to the nest. We retired several hundred yards and hid in some spruces, the bird following part of the way and alighted on the top of a bush growing In the moss and there remained for upwards of an hour, then flew to a pond near, settling on an island, fed for a while, and after preening went to sleep; this seemed absolutely hopeless, so we decided to have another look over the ground. Each of us had a long pole with a handkerchief tied to the end, with these we covered all the ground which appeared suitable most thoroughly without any results. I then remembered hunting for green-shanks nests In the north of Scotland; there the nests were usually pinced on a dry ridge, and seeing such a ridge near the edge of the tundra I suggested to my friend that we should go and look It over. We had not proceeded in its direction more than 10 yards when right In front of me and not more than 6 feet away on the top of a dry peat hummock amongst some scrubby tea plant squatted a yellow-shank with a downy young one on her back. I called my friend, who was only a few yards away; he came and we beth watched the bird for some time before putting her up. When she did go there were four downy young in a very slight hollow without any trace of nesting material but a few leaves which bad probably blown In. Amongst these we found some fragments of eggshell.
On June 6th of the followIng year I was out on that tundra agaIn and worked my way towards where we had found the nest, but never saw or heard a sign of the bird. However, I went to the old nest and when wIthin 3 feet to my astonishment saw a yellow-shank lying fiat on the nest. I could hardly believe my eyes. I watched her for some time as she sat there perfectly motionless; on putting her up, she began to scold loudly, sometimes tlyir.g close round my head and then she would perch on a dead bush near, bobbing her head, uttering tee eric, tee eric, tee eric all the time. Four beautiful eggs lay In the sUg~it depression. I had been there fully 15 minutes when away In the far distance I heard another yellow-shank which quickly approached and was evidently the mate, for they both continued their abuse until I was out of sight. It very often happens that the male bird is not wIthin miles of the incubating female, and under these conditions finding a nest is a mere fluke. There Is one rule which holds good in all the nests I have found, and this Is that a yellowlegs never nests on ground which is too soft to scratch in. There must be soil or dry, hard peat. I once found a nest on a boulder which had a thin covering of peat and reindeer moss on It, whilst the surrounding ground was wet and mossy, so being unsuitable for making a scratch. The nest is nearly always placed quite close to a fiashet or pond of water; I have only twice seen a nest at a distance of 20 yards from any water hole.
William Brewster (1883) found the greater yellow-legs abundant on Anticosti Island in July and, although he found no eggs or young, he obtained “the strongest circumstantial evidence” that the birds were breeding there. The fact that this island has been for many years a protected sanctuary may have had some effect in keeping up the supply of these birds.
Fifty years or more ago Dr. E. W. Nelson (1877cc) found several pairs of greater yellow-legs about the Calumet Marshes, which from their actions he felt sure were breeding there. He records a nest and four eggs found near Evanston, Illinois, in June, 1876; “the nest was situated in a slight depression at the base of a small hillock near the border of a prairie slough, and was composed of grass stems and blades.”
Ernest S. Norman (1915) while driving over a soft and spongy spot in a swamp, in Manitoba, in which his team nearly became mired, was surprised to see a greater yellow-legs fly up from its nest within 1 foot of the front wheel of the wagon. The nest, which contained four heavily incubated eggs on June 24, is thus described:
The nest wns just a depression in the moss, with a few bits of Ivy grass as a lining. It had no shelter whatever, as a fire had swept over the place about a month previous to the finding of the nest so that there was not even grass growing anywhere near the nest.
Egg,s: T he four eggs, usually comprising the set, of the greater yellow-legs are ovate pyriform in shape and have a slight gloss. They are rather handsomely marked and are practically indistinguishable from eggs of the European greenshank. The ordinary ground colors are pale buff, “light buff” to “cartridge buff.” They are irregularly spotted and blotched, chiefly about the larger end, with dark browns, ” bay,” “liver brown,” and “chestnut brown,” and with conspicuous underlying spots and blatches of various shades of “purple-drab.” An especially handsome set in my collection, one of the most beautiful sets of waders’ eggs I have ever seen, is richly colored in reddish browns. The ground colors vary from “pinkish buff” to “orange-cinnamon” or “sayal brown.” The four eggs are heavily and boldly marked with large, longitudinal blotches and splashes of rich browns, “claret brown,” “mahogany red,” and “bay,” over underlying blotches, nearly concealed, of various shades of “purple drab.” The measurements of 51 eggs average 48.9 by 33 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 53.5 by 33.8, 51.8 by 35.1, 43.7 by 31.5, and 44.9 by 30.8 millimeters.
Young: We have no data as to the period of incubation or in what way the sexes share it. Both sexes share in the care of the young, which are brooded by the female for the first day. The young birds referred to by Mr. Whitaker had left the nest on the second day.
Plumages: In the downy young greater yellow-legs a median stripe of “bone brown” extends from the bill upwards, increasing in width until it covers the whole of the occiput; a wide loral stripe of brownish black extends from the bill to the eye; the forehead and sides of the crown are silvery gray; and the cheeks and throat are silky white. The rest of the upper parts, hind neck to rump, are variegated or heavily blotched with “bone brown,” “wood brown,~~ and pale buff, the dark color predominating, especially on the rump. The under parts are grayish white, almost gray on the breast.
The juvenal plumage appears first on the scapulars and back and then on the breast. Two young birds, about half grown on June 30, are fully feathered on the mantle; the breast is well feathered, but covered with white downy tips, the wings are half grown, but the tail has not appeared; the crown is “bister,” streaked with white; the feathers of the back, scapulars, and wing-coverts are “bister” or “warm sepia,” spotted or notched with “pinkish huff” or huffy white, whitest on the upper back and most buffy on the scapulars; the sides of the neck and upper breast are streaked with and the flanks are barred with dusky; the rest of the under parts are white. This plumage is worn for three months or more, well into October. Young birds are in this plumage when they pass us on migration, but the buffy tints have mostly faded out to white.
Beginning in October a partial postjuvenal molt takes place involving the body plumage, most of the scapulars, and some of the wing coverts. This produces a first winter plumage which is similar to that of the adult, but the general tone of the upper parts is grayer and the feathers of the mantle are edged with dull white. The type of William Brewster’s Lower California race, frazari, and most of his series of it are in this plumage.
A partial, first prenuptial molt, mainly in March and April, involving the body feathers, most scapulars, some wing coverts and usually the tail, produces a first nuptial plumage. Some adult nuptial plumage is acquired on the head, neck, and breast, but the head and neck are not so heavily streaked and there is less barring in lighter colors on the breast and flanks; but the mantle, back, and scapulars are very different from the adult winter or nuptial plumages; these feathers are more or less variegated, barred or spotted with ashy brown and dark sepia, and are notched, edged, or tipped with gray, grayish white or white, producing a rather evenly mottled appearance. This is apparently a nonbreeding plumage, for I have seen it only in birds taken far south of the breeding range. At the first postnuptial molt the following summer, which is complete, the adult winter plumage is assumed.
Adults have a partial pi~enuptial molt of the body plumage, usually the tail, scapulars, some tertials, and most wing coverts between February and May. In the nuptial plumage the crown is nearly all dark sepia; the mantle and scapulars are very dark sepia, almost black, notched or tipped with white spots; and the breast and flanks are heavily and irregularly barred with dark sepia. The white notches and tips wear away toward the end of the season. The complete postnuptial molt of the body plumage occurs in August and September, but the wings are not molted until winter. In adult winter plumage the crown is streaked with sepia and ~vhite about evenly; the breast and flanks are faintly marked, or peppered, with pale sepia; and the feathers of the back and scapulars are mainly plain “wood brown,” with inconspicuous whitish edgings and notches.
Food: The greater yellow-legs seems to prefer to feed in shallow water; its long legs enable it to wade in deeper water than most other waders, and it is often seen using them to their full extent in water up to its body. It moves about nimbly and gracefully, actively engaged in catching small minnows and water insects, delicately balanced on its long legs, bowing or nodding, as if its body were on a pivot, in a very pleasing manner. Much of its food seems to consist of small minnows, in pursuit of which it is very active and lively. Mr. Nichols has sent me the following notes on the subject:
The greater yellowIegs at times catches killifish up to as large a size as it can swallow, wading in water as deep as it can stand. Having secured a fish, it manipulates same up its long bill and into its mouth. Sometimes it catches a fish tangled in a mass of fine water weed, and in this case may either fiddle with and disengage it, or work it up to its mouth and swallow it before disengaging the bill from the weed. I have seen an unusually large fish, probably (Fundulus heterociltus), worked up the bird’s bill two or three times and turned head first to swallow, stick at the base of the bill, and drop into the water again. Finally, with a great bulging of face and throat, the fish slipped down.
Satisfied for the moment, the bird rose and flew to the leeward end of the pond hole where It bad been feeding, alighted, walked up the bank, and stood In a tuft of pnrtly dry grass at the edge of the water, quietly facing out into the breeze for some twenty minutes, although all the time alert and watchful, in this sheltered posiLlon it would not have been noticed unless known to be there.
Dr. Paul Bartsch (1899) found a greater yellow-legs in the Washington market whose throat was jammed full of top minnows. lie says that many times he has “watched this bird wade out into the shallow water of the bars, moving along slowly with tilting gait, suddenly lower that long head and neck and proceed to run through the water at a speed which would have done credit to a college sprinter, quickly striking to right and left with his bill.” Others have noted a similar performance.
I have occasionally seen greater yellow-legs on damp, grassy meadows where they were probably feeding on insects or their larvae, snails, worms, or crustaceans, all of which have been found in their stomachs. Lucien M. Turner refers in his notes to a bird he shot at the mouth of the Koksoak River, Ungava, on September 18, 1882, which had been feeding on the berries of Empetrum nigruin.
Three birds collected by Stuart T. Danforth (1925) had eaten exclusively animal matter: “The recognizable fragments were: Dragon-fly naiads, 65.33 per cent; aquatic Hemiptera (Belostoma species), 22 per cent; fish scales (Poecilia vivipara), 6.0 per cent; Dytiscid larvae, 0.66 per cent.”
Behavior: The flight of the greater yellow-legs is quite swift, strong, and well sustained on the downward and sweeping strokes of its long, pointed, dark-colored wings. Its long neck and bill extended forward and its long, yellow legs stretched out behind give it a slender, rakish appearance which is quite distinctive. It usually flies at a good elevation and when traveling it often flies at a great height. It scans the ground beneath, looking for a suitable place to feed or searching for desirable companions. It responds readily to the call of its own species and will often answer an imitation of its notes from a great distance; sometimes when it is too far away to be seen. When coming in from a distance it usually flies in wide circles around the caller several times until it is satisfied that it is safe to alight. It then comes zig-zagging or scaling down on downcurved wings and settles lightly near its would-be companions. On alighting it stands for a moment with its wings extended upward in a graceful attitude, folds them deliberately, gives a few jerky bows or upward nods, and then either begins to feed or settles down to rest. It is not very particular as to its companions; it associates freely with any of the smaller waders that frequent the mud flats, meadows, or shallow ponds; it seems to be particularly fond of the companionship of the teals when they are feeding in shallow water.
It is not as gregarious as the lesser yellow-legs; it is most often seen singly or in small parties, but I have counted as many as 40 in a flock on rare occasions.
When walking on the ground its movements are lively and its carriage is graceful, though its long legs seem to give it a somewhat jerky gait at times. On its breeding ground it often alights on the tops of spruce or larch trees, or on bushes or dead stubs, on which it balances rather awkwardly. It is normally a shy and wary species; large flocks are very difficult to approach; but sometimes single individuals seem to be absurdly tame in the presence of other tame species or among decoys. Some good photographs of it have been taken at short range. William Brewster (1925) tells of one that he approached in the open to within ten feet and then fired his gun directly over it without causing it to fly. Mr. Nichols suggests, in his notes:
It would seem almost as though these birds drew an abstract danger line, difilcult to cross from the outside without alarming them, but once inside which, man became to them a mere harmless item of the landscape. I have had a greater yellowlegs, a bird of the year, come to decoys (under the impression that they were others of its kind) and as the water was too deep, alight and stand on one of the decoys, recognizing in It a piece of wood, meanwhile being remarkably tame, perhaps waiting for others of the flock (of decoys) to take alarm. Is not this pragmatic rather than rationni philosophy which they possess, the weakness most in favor of the gunner who hunts shore birds with decoys?
He also adds the following notes on behavior:
I have seen the greater yellowlegs preen its plumage in leisurely manner without repeatedly dipping the bill in the water, as the lesser frequently does. It reached far back over its shoulder, lifted a wing slightly to pick under it, stretched its neck up to reach the breast with its bill, and scratched its chin deliberately with the right foot. On nnother occasion a bathing bird crouched down in shallow water, ducking the head and at the same time fluttering and splashing vigorously with the wings.
A resting bird stands at ease, neck hunched down, with slight alert movements of the heed. From time to time it may turn its bill back and bury it in the feathers along the hack with a little shake of same, one eye at least exposed and open though blinking sleepily. An interesting pose which may be assumed for two or three minutes is with the bill resting diagonally downward across the feathers of the breast. It may stand for a long time on one motionless straight leg, inclined so as to bring the foot under its center of gravity, the other leg raised and concealed by the feathers.
Though a wounded lesser yellowlegs will sometimes dive and s~vim under water, I have not seen the smaller species alight in spots too deep for wading. The greater yellowlegs on the other hand does so not infrequently. It swims gracefully with phalaropelike motion of the neck, held erect, stcrn tilted up like that of a gull. In shallow water over mud so soft and sticky that it made wading difficult I have seen a bird launch itself forward, swimming, as tbe easier method of propulsion.
Voice: Mr. Nichols (1920) has published the results of a detailed study of the vocabularies of the two yellow-legs, which are noted for the variety of their calls. He has recognized and described nine different calls of the greater yellow-legs, as follows:
(1) The yodle (a rolling teowhee toowhee, etc.) is commonest in a flock from birds remaining in one locality, not traveling. I think I have heard it from a single bird in the fog. It is characteristically given in the air, generally with set wings, by birds ~vhich seem to contemplate alighting. It advertises birds tarrying in one general locality, and has probably the function of location notice. It is doubtless homologous with the gather call of the spotted sandpiper with which it has little analogy.
(2) Loud ringing 3, wlieu wleu wlteu. The characteristic cry of the species, spring and fall. It is commonly given by passing or ]eaving birds. It advertises the species: and a change of policy in the individual according to its loudness. Analogous with notes of other species spoken of as flight notoa or Identification notes; occasionally heard from an alighted bird. This call Is subject to considerable variation, when heard from a bird about to drop down and join others feeding it Is comparatively low-pitched and even, leaving or about to leave a feeding ground, highly modulated.
(3) Four wheus, heard as follows, seem to have a rather definite significance; low, hurried, descending, heard from a bird leaving companion; short, clear, four, by a following bird; loud, four, bird without intention of alighting, trying to flush decoys. This may be called a recruiting call.
(4) Twos (wheu when) seem to be characteristic of a recruit. A “gentle” bird which comes nicely to decoys is apt to call in twos when approaching and coming in.
(5) Rarely, in taking wing In the presence of an intruder, a single bird utters a string of unmodulated wh,eus which breaks tip Into threes or fours as It goes off. This Is likely a note of protest, which would be more common in the breeding season.
(6) Conversational murmuring, from a flock dropping in, expresses cornpanionslz4p and confidence.
(7) Conversational chup notes from birds about to alight, also beard from birds alighted, moving about at ease. The alighting note.
(8) Unloud chups identical with the preceding but more hurried, given by a small flock of birds as they lake wing. The flushing note.
(9) Kyow, common in spring, only rarely heard in southward migration; probably associated with the breeding season; seems to express suspicion.
Different renderings of some of the above notes have been given by others. Mr. Brewster (1883) describes a note heard on the breeding grounds as “an incessant clack-clack-clack-clack, which sounded very like the clatter of a mowing machine.” He then goes on to say: “In addition to the cry already described, they uttered a rolling pkeu-pkeu.-pke, pheu-pheu-pke, repeated a dozen times or more in quick succession; a mellow pheu, pheu, pheu, resembling the whistle of the fish hawk; and a soft, hollow hoo, wltoo, whoo, very like the cooing of a dove. The latter note was gIven only when the bird perched on the top of some tall spruce.”
Field marks: The greater yellow-legs resembles the lesser so closely in color pattern that the two can not be readily distinguished except by direct comparison in size. The bill of the greater is relatively larger, and ~t is rather more boldly marked. The voices of the two are somewhat different. Other characters are referred to under the next spectes.
Fall: Adults move off their breeding grounds at an early date and loiter along in a leisurely manner. The first migrants appear in the northern states in July, sometimes as early as the second or even the first week. Young birds come later; there is usually a heavy flight of them during the first half of October, and many linger in Massachusetts until the middle of November or later. Mr. Brewster (1925) says of the migration at Umbagog Lake, Maine:
We often saw thorn arriving and departing by day, usually in the early morning or late afternoon if the weather were fine, at almost any time if it were stormy. When seen approaching from farther north, they were commonly first sighted so high In the air that they looked no bigger than swallows. After circling twice or thrice over the lake on set wings, whistling loudly and volubly, they were likely to pitch headlong into the marshes to feed and rest there during the remninder of the day, if not for a considerably longer period, provided no gunner happened to fare that way. Some, however, kept straight on without stopping and perhaps without lowering their line of flight below the level of the mountain tops to the southward over which they were accustomed to pass.”
Mr. Whitaker tells me that the last of the yellow-shanks move out of Newfoundland about the end of October; these are probably all young birds. And Edward S. Thomas sends me a record for Columbus, Ohio, of December 11, 1925. This bird well deserves the name of “winter yellowlegs.”
Probably many migrate at sea, from Nova Scotia to the West Indies, for Capt. Savile G. Reid (1884) says that it is “more or less common in Bermuda, “arriving early in August and remaining for a month or so,” where it is “much in request among the energetic sportsmen.”
Game: The greater yellow-legs is a fine game bird; I can not say as much for the lesser yellow-legs. Large numbers have been shot in past years. Prof. Wells W. Cooke (1912) says: “A hunter near Newport, Rhode Island, shot 1,362 greater yellow-legs in the eight seasons, 1867: 1874; his highest score, 419 birds, was in 1873, from August 19 to October 19.” Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1905) reports that “463 greater yellow-legs were sent from Newburyport and vicinity on one day, October 11, 1904, to a single stall in Boston market.” I knew an old gunner who celebrated his eightieth birthday a few years ago by shooting 40 yellow-legs.
It is a pity that the delightful sport of bay-bird shooting, which was such a pleasant feature of our earlier shooting days, had to be gradually restricted. Hudsonian curlew, and black-bellied and golden plover and greater yellow-legs were all fine game birds. I could see no reason for cutting out the curlew, as it is well able to take care of itself; golden plover were sadly depleted in numbers and black-bellied plover and both yellow-legs were decreasing; perhaps it was wise to eliminate them all.
Those were glorious days that we used to spend on the marshes of Cape Cod. On the inner, or bay, side of Monomoy are extensive marshes, meadows, sand flats, and mud flats, 9 miles in length and nearly a mile wide in places at low tide. These were great feeding resorts for hosts of shore birds; and in the good old days, when there were shore birds to shoot and when we were allowed to shoot them, blinds were scattered all along the marshes and flats. On a dry sand spit or beach a hole was dug in the sand and seaweed was piled up around it high enough to conceal a sitting gunner; on a wet marsh a substantial blind was built of brush, with a seat in it for two men; in some places in the meadows, where the grass grew high, a box or a board to sit on was all the gunner needed. Wooden or tin decoys painted to imitate yellow-legs or plover were set up in the sand or mud, all facing the wind and within easy range. Here in a comfortable blind the hunter could lounge at ease, bask in the genial sun of early autumn, smoke his pipe and meditate, or watch the many interesting things about him, the rich autumn colors of the marsh vegetation, the ever-changing picture of sky and sea, the black terns and the swallows ~vinnowing the meadows, the gulls and the terns over the sea and the flocks of small waders running over the mud flats. Suddenly he is awakened from his reveries by the well-known note of the winter yellow-legs and discerns a mere speck in the distant sky; he whistles an imitation of its note; the bird answers him and, looking for companionship, circles nearer; by judicious calling the bird is attracted within sight of the decoys and, after several cautious circlings, it sets its wings and scales down to the decoys, where it meets its fate. Perhaps a whole flock may slip in unexpectedly, wheel over the decoys and hurry away, giving the gunner only a hurried chance for a quick shot. Perhaps a curlew may fly over or a flock of beetle-heads fly swiftly by; the gunner must be ready for all such chances. There is an ever-changing panorama of bird life on the marshes, full of surprises and delights for the nature lover.
Winter: The greater yellow-legs has a wide winter range, from the southern United States, where it is comparatively rare, to southern South America, where most of the birds seem to go. W. H. Hudson (1920) says:
The greater yellow-legs Is best known as an Arctic-American species, descendlag south during migration, and arriving In La Plata at the end of September or early In October, singly or in pairs, and sometimes in small flocks. Without ever bi lag abundant the bird is quite common, and one can seldom approach a pool or marsh on the pampas without seeing one or more Individuals wading near the margin, and bearing their po~verful alarm cry: a long, clear note repeated three times. These sumnier visitors leave us In March, and then, oddly enough, others arrive, presumably from the south to winter on tbe pampas, and remain from April to August. Thus, notwithstanding that the yellow-shanks does not breed on the pampas, we have it with us all the year round.
Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1926) saw it in Paraguay as early as September 8 and in Chile as late as April 26. He writes:
After their arrival in September greater yellow-legs were distributed throughout the open pampa wherever shallow ponds offered suitable feeding places. Occasionally 10 or 20 gathered in a flock, especially when northward migration was under way In March and April, but when on their wintering grounds it was usual to find two or three in company, seldom more. They are rather silent during the winter season hut when the northward journey begins are as noisy as is their custom in the north. The species Is large so that it is attractive to pot hunters and many are killed. I saw a number of crippled birds during the last two months of my stay in Argentina and consider that It is these injured individuals, unable to perform the necessary flight, or without desire to do so from their injuries, that are recorded on the pampas from May to August when all should be in the Northern Hemisphere. Reports of their breeding in Argentina, based on the presence of these laggards In migration are wholly unauthenticated.
I am inclined to think that most of the birds that remain in the South from April to September are one-year-old birds which are not ready to breed.
Range: North and South America.
Breeding range: The breeding range of the greater yellow-legs extends north to Alaska (Bethel); British Columbia (Fort St. James); Mackenzie (Peel River); Alberta (Island Lake) ; Manitoba (Kalcoala); Labrador (Whale River and Hopedale); and Newfoundland (Gaff Topsail). East to Newfoundland (Gaff Topsail). South to Newfoundland (Gaff Topsail); Quebec (Natashquan River, Anticosti Island, and near Mt. Laurier); probably formerly Illinois (Ev~tnston); and British Columbia (Clinton). West to British Columbia (Clinton, Fort George, and Fort St. James).
They also hppear to occur in summer with more or less regularity north to Alaska (St. Paul Island, Bethel, and Nome); Keewatin (near Cape Eskimo); and Franklin (Cumberland Sound); and nonbreeding specimens have at this season been noted south to the Bahama Islands (Great Abaco); Florida (Key West, Sarasota Bay, and Ponce P~’ark) ; Alabama (Leighton) ; Texas (Amarillo, Lipscomb, Pecos, and ~orpus Christi); and California (Fresno, Santa Barbara, and Nigger Slough).
Winter range: North rarely to Washington (Dungeness Spit); rarely Arizona (Fort Verde and Bill Williams River); Texas (Tom Green and Concho Counties, Boerne, San Antonio, and Refugio County); Louisiana (Abbeville, Avery Island, and New Orleans); and probably Virginia (Hog Island). East probably to Virginia (Hog Island and Sandy Island); probably North Carolina (Corolla and Pea Island); South Carolina (Ladys Island and Frogmore); Georgia (Blackbeard Is]and. Darien, and St. Marys) ; Florida (Amelia Island, Daytona Beach, Miakka, and the Florida Keys); the Bahama Islands (Andros, New Providence, and Inagila Islands); probably Porto Rico; the Lesser Antilles (Antigua, Barbados, and Grenada); French Guiana (Cayenne); Brazil (Para, Cajetuba, Iguape, Pelotas, and Rio Grande do Sul); Uruguay (Lazcano, San Vicente, and Colonia); and Argentina (Buenos Aires, Azul, Carhue, and Bahia Blanca). South to Argentina (Bahia Blanca) ; Chile (Straits of Magellan, Valparaiso, Paposo, and Antofagasta) ; Peru (Lake Titicaca, Tinta, and Chorillos); Ecuador (Cuenca, Canar, and Quito); Colombia (Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena); Costa Rica (San Jose and Puntarenas) ; Guatemala (Lake Atitlan); Jalisco (Guadalajara) ; Sinaloa (Escuinapa) ; Lower California (San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, and San Quintin); California (San Diego, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, and the San Joaquin Valley) ; and rarely Washington (Dungeness Spit). Greater yellow-legs also have been reported as wintering on the coast of British Columbia (Macoun).
Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Maryland, Patapsco Marsh, March 26; Pennsylvania, Carlisle, March 19, and Erie, March 28; New Jersey, Cape May, March 18, and Camden, April 4; New York, Jamaica, March 20, Lowville, March 22, and Montauk Point, March 23; Connecticut, West Haven, March 25, and Fairfield, April 9; Massachusetts, Taunton, April 4, and Cambridge, April 15; Maine, Pittsfield, April 26; Quebec, Quebec, April 18, Godbout, April 26, Montreal, May 4, and Lake Mistassini, May 7; Missouri, Kansas City, March 2, Corning, March 19, and Jasper City, March 24; Illinois, Englewood, March 19, Tampico, March 22, and Lebanon, March 29; Indiana, Terre Haute, March 19, Indianapolis, March 22, and Vincennes, March 30; Ohio, Waverly, March 14, and Columbus, February 21; Michigan, Bay City, March 26, Ann Arbor, March 30, and Hillsdale, March 31; Ontario, Ottawa, March 25, Toronto, March 26, and Blair, April 10; Iowa, Storm Lake, March 20, La Porte, March 21, and Keokuk, March 26; Wisconsin, Delavan, March 30, Madison, April 3, and Milwaukee, April 10; Minnesota, Wilder, March 30, and Waseca, April 10; Oklahoma, Caddo, March 11; Kansas. Manhattan, March 11, Emporia, March 26, and Wichita, April 6; Nebraska, Falls City, March 22, Valentine, April 6, and Lincoln April 10; South Dakota, Sioux Falls, March 27, and Harrison, April 7; North Dakota, Bathgate, April 15, and Grafton, April 19; Manitoba, Aweme, April 10, Ossowo, April 15, and Reaburn, April 16; Saskatchewan, McLean, April 29, and Indian Head, May 3; Mackenzie, Fort Simpson, May 16; Colorado, Barr, March 29, and Colorado Springs, April 10; Utah, Salt Lake, April 7; Wyoming, Fort Sanders, April 20, and Yellowstone Park, April 28; Idaho, Meridian, April 14, and Rupert, April 20; Montana, Great Falls, April 6, and Helena, April 9; Alberta, Onoway, April 13, Alliance, April 26, and Carvel, April 30; and British Columbia, Chilliwack, March 28, and Okanagan Landing, March 23.
Late dates of spring departures are: Argentina, Tucuman, April 5; Chile, Concon, April 26; Florida, Daytona Beach, April 10, Bassenger, April 16, Indian River, April 23, and Pensacola, May 2; Alabama, Leighton, May 15; Georgia, Cumberland, April 17 and Savannah, April 20; South Carolina, Chester, April 21, and Ladys Island, May 5; North Carolina, Lake Ellis, May 18, Cape Hatteras, May 20, and Raleigh, May 29; Virginia, Cobb Island, May 19, Wallops Island, May 26, and Cape Charles, May 27; Bermuda, June 5; District of Columbia, Washington, May 20; Pennsylvania, Erie, May 25, Tinicum, May 26, and Jeffersonville, May 27; New Jersey, Camden, May 25, mouth of Pensauken Creek, May 30, and Elizabeth, June 9; New York, Geneva, June 1, Orient Point, June 11, and Gardiners Island, June 18; Connecticut, Litchfield, June 9, Fairfield, June 12, and Hadlyme, June 15; Massachusetts, Marthas Vineyard, June 14, and Monomoy Island, June 16; Louisiana, New Orleans, April 27; Tennessee, Nashville, May 24; Illinois, Addison, May 23, and La Grange, May 25; Indiana, Richmond, May 20, and English Lake, June 3; Ohio, Columbus, May 27, and Berlin Center, May 27; Michigan, Neebish Island, May 20, and Detroit, May 25; Ontario, London, May 24, and Toronto; June 9; Iowa, Sioux City, May 19, and Keokuk, June 5; Wisconsin, North Freedom, May 24, and La Crosse, June 4; Minnesota, Lake Wilson, May 20, and Madison, May 31; Texas, Brownsville, April 28, and Point Isabel, May 14; Nebraska, Peru, May 15, Neligh, May 26, and Whitman, June 1; South Dakota, Forestburg, May 21, and Harrison, May 28; Manitoba, Reaburn, May 18, Winnipeg, May 20, and Whitewater Lake, June 5; Saskatchewan, McLean, May 18, South Qu’Appelle, May 27; Arizona, Fort Verde, May 3; Colorado, Durango, May 11, Barr, May 11; Wyoming, Laramie, May 29; Montana, Choteau, May 19, and Terry, May 27; Lower California, Hardy River, April 15; California, Santa Barbara, May 16, Los Angeles, May 19, and Buena Park, May 22; Oregon, Cold Spring Bird Reserve, May 12; and Washington, Clallam Bay, May 24.
Fall migration: Early dates of arrival in the fall are: ‘Washington, Tacoma, July 4, and Granville, July 7; Oregon, Maiheur Lake. July 1; California, Fresno, July 5, Santa Barbara, July 18, and Dunlap, July 30; Montana, Milk River, July 24; Wyoming, Laramie River, August 4, and Yellowstone Park, August 17; Utah, Utah Lake, July 26; Colorado, Barr, June 27; Arizona, Fort Verde, July 29; Chihuahua, Tachaco, July 30; Saskatchewan, Crane Lake, June 22, and McLean, July 5; Manitoba, Franklin, July 17, Margaret, July 30, and Oak Lake, August 4; South Dakota, Harding County, July 19, and Forestburg, July 22; Texas, Corpus Christi, July 3, and near Amarillo, July 27; Minnesota, Hallock, July 19, and St. Vincent, July 20; Wisconsin, Madison, July 29, and Racine, July 30; Iowa, Sioux City, August 14, and Winthrop, August 20; Ontario, Toronto, July 28; Michigan, Jackson, July 19, Isle Royale, August 1, Sault Ste. Marie, August 7, and Ann Arbor, August 14; Ohio, Columbus, July 12, Pelee Island, July 24, and Dayton, August 2; Illinois, Addison, July 19, Chicago, July 23, and Rantoul, July 26; Louisiana, Louisiana Branch, August 16; Maine, Pittsfield, July 26; Massachusetts, Cape Cod, July 11, and Marthas Vineyard, July 22; Rhode Island, Block Island, July 9; Connecticut, Milford, July 28; New York, Montauk Point, July 10, East Hampton, July 16, and Rochester, July 18; New Jersey, Barnegat Bay, July 13, and Five-mile Beach, July 15; Pennsylvania, Erie, July 28; District of Columbia, Washington, July 24; North Carolina, Pea and Bodie Islands, July 22; South Carolina, Ladys Island, July 21, and Frogmore, August 8; Alabama, Leighton, July 22; and Florida, Ponce Park, July 12, Palma Sola, August 2, and Key West, August 20. The southern part of the winter range is reached early in September; Paraguay, Puerto Pinasco, September 8.
Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia, Comox, October 28, and Chilliwack, November 21; Nevnda, Washoe Lake, November 6; Alberta, Fort Chipewyan, October 9, and Camrose, October 16; Montana, Great Falls, October 20; Idaho, Meridian, November 12; Wyoming, Fort Bridger, October 14, and Medicine Bow, October 24; Colorado, Denver, October 3, and Barr, October 29; Manitoba, Margaret, October 20, Oak Lake, October 27, and Aweme, November 5; North Dakota, Marstonmoor, October 27; South Dakota, Forestburg, October 22, and South Dakota, Forestburg, October 22, and Sioux Falls, October 29; Nebraska, Lincoln, November 14; Kansas, Emporia, October 12; Minnesota, Madison, October 22, St. Vincent, October 25, and Lanesboro, November 12; Wisconsin, Delavan, October 22, and North Freedom, November 8; Iowa, Emmetsburg, October 22, and Keokuk, November 9; Ontario, Ottawa, November 15, Toronto, November 19, and Port Dover, November 20; Michigan, Ann Arbor, October 22, Sault Ste. Marie, November 5, and Manchester, November 7; Ohio, Painesville, October 30, Columbus, December 11, and Youngstown, November 12; Indiana, Lafay. ette, October 21; Illinois, Addison, October 22, and La Grange, October 28; Missouri, Independence, November 7; Kentucky, Bowling Green, November 22; Franklin, Arctic Island, Cumberland Sound, September 14; Quebec, Montreal, October 25; Maine, Skowbegan, October 24, and Scarboro, November 5; Massachusetts, Dennis, November 1, Monomoy Island, November 12, and Marthas Vineyard, November 20; Rhode Island, Newport, November 4; Connecticut, Fairfield, October 31, and Portland, December 11; New York, Orient, November 12, Montauk Point, November 20, and Branchport, November 20; New Jersey, Elizabeth, October 30, and Fivemile Beach, November 7; Pennsylvania, Beaver, November 6; League island, November 9, and State College, November 14; Maryland, Back River, November 13; District of Columbia, Washington, November 2; and Bermuda, November 10.
Casual records: The greater yellow-legs has been detected outside of the range above outlined on but one occasion, a specimen taken at Tresco Abbey, Scilla Islands, England, on September 16, 1906.
Egg dates: Newfoundland and Labrador: 9 records, June 9 to 20. British Columbia: 2 records, May 20 and 21.