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BirdNote (R) - Tiny Dancers

Air Date: Week of

Red-necked Phalarope (Photo: Tom Grey©)

Tiny Dancers: This week, we begin an occasional series called BirdNote(R) that takes a bird’s eye view of our feathered friends. Our first segment is about the phalarope: a seabird that spins.


YOUNG: Today we’re happy to hatch a new feature, BirdNote (R). In this fledgling edition, BirdNote’s Michael Stein introduces us to some whirling dervishes of the far north.


STEIN: Phalaropes are sandpipers that make their living from the sea. After breeding on the Arctic tundra, they migrate to the open ocean. They remain there through the winter, feeding on tiny crustaceans and other marine animals, making an amazing adaptation to a completely different environment.

Wilson’s Phalarope (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

Wherever you see them, these little birds will be pecking at the surface of the water. But watch for a bit, and you may see a method of feeding unique to phalaropes. They begin to twirl on the surface like little ballerinas, spinning and pecking, again and again. What are they doing?


Red-necked Phalarope (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

STEIN: A phalarope spins around once per second, each bird spinning only left or right. As it does so, it forces water away from itself on the surface, causing an upward flow from as deep as a foot or more.

With this flow, of course, come the tiny animals on which it feeds. Furthermore, as it opens its bill, it creates still another water current that carries prey into its throat. One of the rewards of observing birds closely is that you see the fascinating strategies they use to survive and thrive.


YOUNG: That’s Michael Stein for BirdNote (R). For pictures and more information, go to our website L-O-E dot org.

[MUSIC: Jolly Rogues: “Greenland Whale Fishery” from The Road To Boston (The Jolly Rogues 2003)]



BirdNote (R) “Phalaropes, Spinners on the Sea” was written by Dennis Paulson.

Red-necked Phalarope audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York


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