Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE RED PHALAROPE.
PHALAROPUS FULICARIUS, Bonap.
PLATE CCCXXXIX.--ADULT MALE AND FEMALE IN SUMMER, AND ADULT IN WINTER.
My first drawing of the Red Phalarope was made at Louisville in Kentucky, a
few weeks after my removal to that place, in 1808. One afternoon, while
returning from the house of my hospitable friend General CROGHAN, I observed a
large flock of birds proceeding along the shores of the Ohio. They were quite
unknown to me, and therefore extremely anxious I was to procure some of them. I
therefore ran through the woods until I got ahead of them, went to the margin of
the river, and concealed myself at some distance from them. They swam
beautifully, played about, picked up substances floating on the water, now
dispersed, and again came close together, until at length coming opposite to a
small sand-bar stretching out from the shore to the distance of a few yards,
they directed their course towards it, and waded out. When just landing, they
were so close to each other that I could not withstand the temptation, and so
levelled my gun, pulled both triggers, and saw that I had made considerable
havoc among them. Those which had not been touched, flew off in a compact body,
while the birds that had been but slightly wounded made for the water, and swam
away so fast that they seemed to be running on the surface. I picked up
seventeen, which I found so beautiful and withal so plump, that I felt quite
delighted, and resolved to shoot as many more as I could. But I did not succeed
in killing more than other five that day.
I had never until then seen a Phalarope of any kind, although I had
inspected some shocking figures of these elegant birds, figures so unlike the
originals that even with the aid of a name printed beneath, you could not
recognise them. Such of my acquaintances at Louisville as had been accustomed
to shoot birds, had never seen one of this species on the Ohio, or in any part
of the country. It was then and there that I made my first drawing of the Red
Phalarope, which I shewed to ALEXANDER WILSON during his visit to Louisville.
It being late in October, the specimens which I had procured were all in their
grey livery, and proved capital eating. As I was anxious to watch the rest of
the flock, which I think must have been composed of at least a hundred
individuals, I went to the same place on the following afternoon. As I crossed
Bear Grass creek, near its junction with the Ohio, I observed eight or ten of
them walking over the green moss on the surface of the water near the shore. Of
these I succeeded in killing three. In the course of a walk of two miles along
the banks of the river, I could see none; and some Blue-winged Teals happening
to pass over from the stream in the direction of a pond between it and Kieger's
ferry-house, I went in pursuit of them. Before I got up they had flown away, or
had passed over without alighting. There, however, to my great joy, I found all
the Phalaropes swimming along the margins and picking up the seeds of grasses.
They were much less shy than when I met with them on the river, so that I soon
procured eight more at a single shot. The rest rose, emitting quick sharp
cries, performed a few evolutions at a considerable height, and went off to the
On the 1st of September, 1831, while on board the packet ship Columbia,
commanded by my good friend JOSEPH C. DELANO, Esq., Nantucket being distant
about sixty miles, we came upon an extensive bank of sea-weeds and froth, about
a mile in length, which I was told was produced by the action of the tides. On
this bed were hundreds of Phalaropes of this species, walking as unconcernedly
as if on land. As we approached it, they rose and flew around the vessel for a
few minutes, and when we had passed through we saw them re-alight.
I have not seen the Red Phalarope alive on any other occasion than those
mentioned above; and I am indebted to my generous friend Captain JAMES CLARK
ROSS for the beautiful specimens in summer plumage, from which the figures in
the plate were taken.
None of those which I had wounded attempted to dive. When caught and held
in the hand, they merely fluttered and tried to escape, like other small birds.
Their flight was rapid, resembling that of the Red-backed Sandpiper, Tringa
alpina, and they performed various evolutions, sometimes skimming over the
water, when they kept more apart than either when rising at first, or when they
reached a certain height, on attaining which they pursued their course, with
alternate inclinations to either side.
According to Captain J. C. ROSS, these birds breed in great numbers far
north. The eggs, of which he has favoured me with some, measure an inch
and a quarter by seven-eighths; their ground colour is dull greenish-yellow,
irregularly blotched and dotted with reddish-brown.
RED PHALAROPE, Phalaropus hyperboreus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ix. p. 75.
PHALAROPUS FULICARIUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 341.
PHALAROPUS FULICARIUS, Flat-billed Phalarope, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 407.
RED PHALAROPE, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 236.
RED PHALAROPE, Phalaropus fulicarius, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 404.
Adult, 7 1/2, 13.
Occasionally in flocks in Kentucky, on the Ohio, during autumn often at sea
on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Breeds in high northern latitudes, as far
as Melville Peninsula. Stragglers at times reach as far south as New Jersey,
but the route of this species toward warmer regions is along the Pacific coast.
Adult Male in summer.
Bill scarcely longer than the head, straight, slender, nearly cylindrical,
towards the end broader and flattened, the tip narrow. Upper mandible with the
dorsal line straight, excepting at the end, where it is a little curved, the
ridge convex, flattened at the broad part, the sides slightly sloping, the edges
rounded, and near the slightly curved obtuse tip inflected. Nasal groove
linear, extending to near the tip; nostrils basal, linear-elliptical. Lower
mandible with the angle very long and narrow, the sides convex, the tip
Head small, with the fore part high and rounded; eyes small. Neck of
moderate length. Body rather full. Feet rather short, slender; tibia bare a
short way above the joint; tarsus much compressed, narrowed before and behind,
covered anteriorly with numerous scutella; toes very slender, first extremely
small, free, with a slight membrane beneath; second shorter than third, which is
a little longer; all scutellate above, the anterior margined on both sides with
lobed and pectinated membranes, which are united at the base, so as to render
the foot nearly half-webbed, the outer web much longer than the inner. Claws
very small, compressed, arched, obtuse, that of the middle toe with an inner
Plumage soft and slender, the feathers on the back and wings somewhat
distinct. Wings long and pointed; primary quills tapering, but rounded, the
first longest, the second a little shorter, the rest rapidly graduated;
secondary quills rather short, obliquely truncate, the inner tapering and
elongated, so as nearly to equal the longest primaries when the wing is closed.
Tail of moderate length, much rounded, of twelve feathers.
Bill greenish-yellow, black at the point. Iris brown. Feet pale
greyish-blue. Upper part of the head black; loral space and chin blackish-grey;
sides of the head, and a band round the occiput, white. Sides and fore part of
the neck, breast, abdomen, and lower tail-coverts deep orange-red. Fore part of
the back, scapulars, and inner secondaries, black, the feathers edged with
whitish; wing-coverts deep ash-grey; quills dark greyish-brown, their shafts and
basal parts white; the ends of the secondary and primary coverts, and the basal
part of the outer webs of the primaries, being white, a band of that colour is
seen on the wing when it is extended. Upper tail-coverts orange-red; tail deep
grey, darker towards the end, slightly tipped with reddish.
Length to end of tail 7 1/2 inches, to end of claws 6 3/4; extent of wings
13; wing from flexure 5; tail 2 3/4; bill along the back 11/12, along the edge
of lower mandible 1 1/12; tarsus 10/12; middle toe 10/12, its claw (1 1/2)/12.
Adult Female in summer.
The female has the upper part variegated with light red and brownish-black,
the central part of each feather being of the latter colour, the upper
tail-coverts entirely of the former. Wings greyish-black, with a transverse
white band; tail, deep grey as in the male. The lower parts are of a less pure
red than those of the male, being paler and tinged with grey.
Adult in winter.
The winter plumage of the adult is very different in colour. The bill is
nearly black, the feet as in summer. The upper part of the head, cheeks, fore
part and sides of the neck, breast, abdomen, lower and upper tail-coverts, and a
band across the wing, are white; a brownish-black line from the eye to the
occiput, which is of the same colour, as well as the middle of the hind neck.
The back, scapulars, and inner secondaries, are ash-grey, the wings as in
Length to end of tail 7 1/2 inches.