Plants and Animals

Phalaropus tricolor Wilson's phalarope

Key Characteristics

Phalaropes are unique in that the females have the vibrant plumage, while the males are much drabber and are the only parent to incubate the eggs. Female Wilson's phalaropes are distinguished by a dark stripe on each side of the neck from the needlelike bill to the shoulders, a white throat, and buffy breast. They are active or nervous feeders and may spin while walking or swimming in shallow water to stir up invertebrates that they pick from the water.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Monroe 1 1981

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Wilson's phalaropes frequently inhabit shallow ponds and marshes where they feed just as commonly in the water as they do on surrounding grassy areas.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Maintain shallow ponds and marshy areas with abundant invertebrates and nearby wet grassy fields. Preservation of existing wetlands and restoration of those drained for agriculture or development should benefit the phalarope population. Water level management should be closely monitored in impoundments because even slight increases during the nesting season may flood nests before the precocial chicks hatch.

Active Period

Migration from fourth week of April to first week of May

Migration from fourth week of July to fourth week of September

Nesting from first week of May to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

Scanning suitable habitat for courting or foraging phalaropes is the best survey method. Conducting surveys from a canoe may increase detection by allowing access to areas of the marshes not visible from upland areas. Detection may be further improved by using call playback to elicit responses from territorial birds.

Visual, suitable habitat

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Daytime


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.