Phalaropus tricolor

Status:  Abundant regular spring migrant central and west, common east. Uncommon regular breeder north-central and west, rare casual south-central and east. Common, locally abundant, regular fall migrant west, fairly common east.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM12705, 16 May 1895 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized.

Spring:  Apr 11, 11, 12 <<<>>> Jun 10, 11, 12

Earlier dates are 28 Mar 2014 Hall Co, 6-7 Apr 2016 Lancaster Co, and 9 Apr 2017 Clay Co.

Late dates above are from locations where summering was not reported. Later dates are 7-14 Jun 2008 Funk WPA, Phelps Co, 12-14 Jun 2018 Kimball Co

Arrival generally occurs in mid-Apr and peak numbers occur during the first half of May. Numbers are lower in the east.

  • High counts: 10,000 at the North Platte SL, Lincoln Co 6 May 1996, 8760 there 2 May 2004, 7520 in the eastern Rainwater Basin 2 May 2010, and 6550 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co 15 May 2006.

A surprisingly high estimate for the date was the “thousands” at North Platte SL 14 Jun 2010.

SummerThe species breeds regularly in the Sandhills and northern Panhandle, south to northern Lincoln Co.  There are a number of records indicating breeding in the Rainwater Basin also (Jorgensen 2012); nests or dependent young have been observed in 1996, 2005 and 2007, and courtship and territorial displays in 2001, 2003, 2012, and 2013 (Jorgensen 2012). Most recently, a nest with four eggs was photographed at Sora WMA, Fillmore Co 24 Jun 2017. There are many breeding season reports for the Rainwater Basin including birds which appeared to be transients and other reports that may having involved nesting birds but where  evidence of breeding was not obtained.  In the Central Platte River Valley, breeding has only been documented on Mormon Island, Hall Co on property owned and managed by the Crane Trust.  A single nest was located there in 1995 (Lingle 1996), two territorial adults and later adults with two juveniles were observed during June 2017 (Sutton and Arcilla 2018), and two nests were discovered in 2019 (Caven et al 2019).  Breeding has occurred in Lancaster and Saunders Cos; in 1985 (Garthright 1985), 1987, when a nest was found at Jack Sinn Memorial WMA, Saunders Co (Ducey 1988), and 1991 (Einemann 1991). There is also a series of breeding season (Jun-Jul) reports dating back to 1973 without evidence of breeding for Lancaster Co.

Away from these locations, there are single records of breeding for Nance Co in 1974 (Ducey 1988) and a nest with four eggs in Keith Co 15 Jun 2003.

There are a few additional summer reports that may indicate breeding, but are more likely to be of non-breeding one-year-old birds: 9 Jun 1984 Douglas-Sarpy Cos, 9 Jun 2007 Sarpy Co, 14 Jun 2002 and 30 Jun 1985 Pierce Co,  15 Jun 1997 Lincoln Co, 15 Jun 2019 Buffalo Co, 16 Jun 1986 Kimball Co, 25 Jun 2005 Merrick Co, 29 Jun 2019 Franklin Co, 3 Jul 2020 Knox Co, 5 Jul 1997 Pintail WMA, Hamilton Co, and 9 Jul Rainwater Basin (Jorgensen 2012).

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Eggs: 11 May-15 Jun
    Young: 30 May, 2 & 30 June

An interesting observation involved a pasture at Crescent Lake NWR where cattle were removed after two weeks of intensive grazing; soon thereafter, 48 nests were found 11 May-8 Jun, 33 of these with 4 eggs, and young were noted by 30 May (Mollhoff 2008).  The nest found at Sora WMA in 2017 and noted above was in a portion of the wetland where intensive spring grazing occurred.  Similarly, the pasture where two nests were found on Mormon Island in 2019 was moderately grazed (Caven et al. 2019).

Fall:  Jul 20, 20, 20 <<<>>> Sep 27, 28, 28

Earlier dates are 13 Jul 2002 Harlan Co, 14 Jul 2018 Polk Co, and 14 Jul 2018 Saunders Co.

Later dates are 1 Oct 2013 Lancaster Co, 5 Oct 2006 Keith Co, 7 Oct 2006 Garden Co, 7 Oct 2019 Phelps Co, 12 Oct 2013 Lincoln Co, 15 Oct 1983 Cherry Co, 18 Oct 2012 Lincoln Co, and 21 Oct Rainwater Basin (Jorgensen 2012).

Early dates above are from locations where summering was not reported and are usually of females. Migrants can usually be detected away from breeding areas by late Jul, but most of the movement, possibly mostly juveniles, occurs primarily during Aug and early Sep. Large concentrations occur in the western Sandhills in Jul, possibly flocking of breeding birds from nearby areas; at Crescent Lake NWR, 1321 were present 8 Jul 1997, and 1000+ were at a flooded field in Box Butte Co 16 Jul 2015. By the end of Sep most are gone, as there are few Oct reports.

  • High counts: 6200 in the western Sandhills 8 Aug 2012, 5500 at Crescent Lake NWR 26 Aug 2006, and 4000 in Garden Co 16 Aug 1971 (eBIRD.org, accessed December 2017.


NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SL: Sewage Lagoons
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)

Literature Cited

Caven, A., B. Ostrom, A. Fowler, J.D. Wiese, and K.C. King.  2019.  New Wilson’s Phalarope nesting record from the Central Platte River Valley, Mormon Island, Hall County, Nebraska.  Nebraska Bird Review 87: 110-114.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Einemann, L.L. 1991. A nesting report of a Wilson’s Phalarope in Lancaster County. NBR 59: 59-61.

Garthright, W.C. 1985. Fledgling Wilson’s Phalaropes. NBR 53: 80.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Lingle, G. 1996. 1995 Breeding bird census—Wetland sedge meadow I and II, subirrigated grassland and native hay. Journal of Field Ornithology 67(supplement): 76–77, 86-87.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2008. The 2007 Nebraska nest report. NBR 76: 155-165.

Sutton, M.O., and N. Arcilla.  2018.  New breeding record and location for Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in the Nebraska Great Plains.  The Prairie Naturalist 50: 74-75.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 1 Jun 2021