Birds of Cape Ann: Greater Yellowlegs and the Boreal Forest

  • Lesser Yellowlegs Massachusetts © KIm Smith 2014.

What a treat to happen upon this pair of yellow-legged shorebirds feasting on tiny invertebrates in the mudflats at Henry’s Pond. 

Lesser Yellowlegs Pair Massachusetts © KIm Smith 2014

The Yellowlegs were foraging companionably alongside the Mallards, American Black Ducks, plovers, and Kildeers. I returned the following dawn and they had already departed for parts warmer. Perhaps we’ll see them again during their spring migration as they journey north to breed in the boreal bog forests of Canada and Alaska.

Lesser Yellowlegs Massachusetts  © KIm Smith 2014 -.Greater Yellowlegs Preening

Here on Cape Ann, we are fortunate to catch fleeting glimpses of species such as Greater Yellowlegs during the great annual fall migration. The map below shows the boreal forest biome (biome is another word for ecosystem), which lies to the south of the tundra and the north of deciduous forests and grasslands. The ground in the boreal forest is damp and boggy because of snowmelt and little evaporation due to cooler summer temperatures. The moist ground and long day length at northerly latitudes during the summer makes for explosive plant growth–Think Bird Food!–not only in the wealth of plants, but myriad insects attracted!

taiga_500Boreal Forests

I believe the pair to be Greater Yellowlegs. If any of our wonderful expert bird lovers would like to weigh in on this, I would be grateful. Songbirds and shorebirds that I have filmed on Cape Ann are featured in my Monarch film and I am in the process of writing the script. I want to insure that all the bird identifications are 100 percent accurate.

Addendum: Many, many thanks to Kate and Patricia (see comments) for identifying the pair as Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)!!

Map courtesy google image search.


  • I believe these are Greater Yellowlegs. Referencing Sibley’s bird book, the bill is longer than the head and slightly upturned.


  • Beautiful photographs! Kim, it’s a real treat to see your work. These are very interesting travelers that most of us never get to see.


    • Thanks so much Al. I have some great video footage too. When I’m not so wrapped up in organizing larger film projects, I hope to make some mini short films about all the beautiful birds I have seen these past few months. Never enough hours in the day. Great to hear from you and hi to Phyllis!


  • Nice ~ nice and nice! Enjoy the photos and information at locations I know ~ very nice ~


  • Great pics of some wonderful birds. Keep ’em coming!


  • Wish I knew more to help you here, but the pictures are quite nice and I bet they can scramble quick across the water…:Point’s good for spearing their food -)


  • Great shots. Did you know that a group of yellowlegs is called an “incontinence” of yellowlegs?
    I would just love to know why.


  • Hi Kim, Beautiful shots! These are Greater Yellowlegs. Hard to tell from Lesser Yellowlegs besides being larger, but they do have knobbier “knees,” a slightly curved bill, and a three-note call vs. the one- or two-note call of the Lesser. These photos are by no means boring! I so admire you for getting up at dawn to take them, and show the rest of us these beautiful birds that we are missing by lazing in bed!


    • Thank you Patricia for your very supportive words and thank you so much for the id. So appreciative, and of the knobby knee and vocalization field notes! Today I am looking at the film footage, maybe that was captured–hopefully!


  • As always, excellent shots, love the reflection on the water. Thanks for sharing


  • Love those yellow legs. Thanks for all the information about our natural habitat, Kim. It’s a real treat to learn more about these creatures and seeing them ‘in person’ makes me smile. Please let us know if you spot any Snowy Owls….I am looking all over for them but have yet to see one!


  • You are very talented. Always interesting to admire!


  • Hi Kim,
    Seeing your write-up about two boreal-dependent shorebirds, I thought you might be interested in our “Boreal Birds Need Half Report” released this weekand summarized below. We would love your help in letting other know about it through your website, blogs, Facebook, etc.
    Jeff Wells, Ph.D.
    Science and Policy Director, Boreal Songbird Initiative

    One of the world’s greatest migrations is happening now. Billions of migratory birds are heading from the U.S., Central and South America to what’s been dubbed “North America’s bird nursery” —the sprawling billion-plus-acre boreal forest that spans the continent from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland and Labrador—to nest and produce next year’s generation of birds.
    However, as abundant as they are, boreal birds face myriad challenges and threats to their habitat. Some of the most iconic species have suffered dramatic declines in recent decades.
    A new science report – Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America’s Bird Nursery and Why it Matters – released May 5 , recommends protecting at least 50 percent of the boreal forest from industrial development. That level of conservation is vital to provide birds the best chance of maintaining healthy populations for hundreds of species of birds that rely on the boreal forest for nesting and migratory stopover..
    The report, produced by Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative, offers scientific support for expansive, landscape-scale habitat conservation in large, interconnected protected areas that are necessary to help ensure the diversity of species . It also showcases significant areas across Canada where birds, landscapes and biodiversity are extraordinarily special.
    The report also reveals often unappreciated roles boreal birds play in providing ecosystem services—pollinating plants, redistributing nutrients, and controlling pests, for example—and the value they add (more than $100 billion to economies in the U.S. and Canada). It also emphasizes the integral role birds play in the culture of Aboriginal Peoples throughout the boreal.


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