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Phalaropes, Spinners on the Sea

Tiny dancers -- with a purpose!

A phalarope (like this Red-necked Phalarope ) twirls on the water's surface, once per second, spinning and pecking. 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 come the tiny animals on which it feeds.

Be sure to watch the videos!

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Phalaropes, Spinners on the Sea

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote!

[Calls of Red-necked Phalaropes and sound of wind on the ocean]

Red-necked 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.

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? [Calls of Red-necked Phalaropes]

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. [Calls of Red-necked Phalaropes]

You can see phalaropes in action, on our website, BirdNote.org.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G. Vyn.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Ambient sound by Kessler Productions
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org     September 2012 / September 2015    Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# 092606RNPHKPLU                     RNPH-01b

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