Did you know? Greater Yellowlegs

E. J. Lefavour writes-

Did you know?

That Greater Yellowlegs, a large sandpiper, breed in muskeg bogs in the northern boreal forest? Their wintering and migration habitats are more general; they can be found in many fresh and saltwater wetland habitats, including open marshes, mudflats, estuaries, open beaches, lakeshores, and riverbanks. In comparison to Lesser Yellowlegs, Greaters are typically found in more open areas, on larger bodies of water, and on more extensive mudflats. Although the Greater Yellowlegs is common and widespread, its low densities and tendency to breed in inhospitable, mosquito-ridden muskegs make it one of the least-studied shorebirds on the continent. A group of yellowlegs are collectively known as an "incontinence" of yellowlegs. This painting is of an incontinence of yellowlegs on a rock at Goose Cove.

E. J. Lefavour-Khan Studio


  • An “incontinence” of yellowlegs??? You have got to be kidding me. That is just so wrong on so may levels. Yellow legs? Is there a sub genus stinky foot?

    I’m trying to get to know my shore birds but the more I read the more it seems impossible. Ever alcid, gull, merganser, they all have “juvenile” and “not quite adult” and “immature plumage”. What that all means is that the bird you are looking at could be anything since before they are a forty year old adult the bird can transform sixty times.

    Incontinence of yellowlegs. Tell me you made that up. Now that is a bit of info that is seared in my brain for the rest of my life. I’ll be looking for a group of incontinent birds with yellow legs from now on. Is that them? Let me get downwind to check.


    • Hi Paul,
      Yes, identifying birds can be quite a challenge. I became an avid birder when I lived in Newbury and on Plum Island years ago (on the migration path of a multitude of different species), but it requires close observation (binoculars help), listening (birds that look very similar can be accurately identified by their call), watching behaviors (differentiates birds same as calls), and always having a Peterson Field Guide to North American Birds handy because it shows photos of them at different seasons, sexes, maturity, etc. Check out http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/252/_/Greater_Yellowlegs.aspx for more info on the Greater Yellowlegs, if you’re interested. To be honest, I got help on this identification, as a man who saw a photograph I had taken of them at the Annisquam Arts & Crafts Show told me what they were. I then doublechecked the identify to be sure, and found the “incontinence” thing, which I found pretty amusing. I don’t think of birds as ever being incontinent, although I didn’t notice any bird poop on the rock they were hanging out on, so maybe they get shy when they are in a group and hold it.


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